It doesn’t take long to get hooked on cocaine, but it can take years for users to shake free from the shackles of addiction.
Users committed to quitting face an uphill battle from the beginning: Intense cravings and miserable withdrawals obstruct the road to abstinence. Chemical changes to the brain affect impulse control, leading to relapse.
Those leading the effort to rid the community of addictive drugs recognize their allure and the obstacles addicts face in getting clean.
“The reason people use drugs to cope is, No. 1, they work,” said Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith. “They create a euphoric situation where you have no problems any more. It’s only when you sober up that the problems come rushing back, and they’re twice as bad as they were before you started.”
Powder and crack cocaine rank among the toughest drugs to kick, and many users require treatment before achieving any success.
“It’s a mean demon,” said Bobby Harris, director of the House of Mercy, a Columbus shelter that has housed scores of recovering drug addicts. “It’s one of those drugs where an individual or an organization has to be patient because recovery doesn’t come in five or six steps. It takes years, and that’s why our shelter doesn’t have a limit on how long you can stay.”
Fortunately for recovering coke and crack users, a number of ministries and rehabilitation programs can be found in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley. Many organizations, such as Cocaine Anonymous, require only the willpower to change.
Experts warn against self-medicating withdrawal symptoms, which can transfer addiction to another substance such as alcohol. Cocaine Anonymous encourages its newcomers to take one day at a time and attend frequent meetings, which are offered in Columbus.
“Any counselor of addiction will let you know that group is the most effective method of bringing a person around to a place called contemplation, action and maintenance,” said the Rev. Johnnie C. Robinson Jr., head of the House of Restoration in Phenix City. “The second most effective part of that is getting in contact with family.”
There’s no panacea for cocaine dependence, and every user’s plight varies. Many addicts find themselves sobering up in a jail cell.
Inmates addicted to cocaine or other stimulants “generally do not require treatment in an inpatient setting,” according to clinical practice guidelines published by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“However, symptoms may be severe enough to require clinical intervention,” the guidelines say. “For most inmates who use cocaine or other stimulants, medications are not ordinarily indicated as an initial treatment for withdrawal or dependence, as none have shown efficacy.”
As in many lockups, a cocaine addict booked into the Chambers County Jail “just has to tough it out,” said Tommy Weldon, chief of police in Valley, Ala.
“If they can get into a rehab program, they’ll work with the judges and let them make bond,” Weldon said.
Inmates who can’t make bond are taken to the hospital “if it gets bad enough,” Weldon said.
“They typically go through cold chills,” the chief added. “They have diarrhea. Their whole digestive system is out of whack because they spend so much time getting high. It’s similar to someone who’s got the flu.”
While there are many success stories, Paul Morris sees more of the recurring failures when it comes to cocaine. A registered nurse, Morris runs the health services departments for inmates at the Muscogee County Jail.
Many of his “patients” are incarcerated because of their habit -- stealing and dealing to support it.
Morris says some anti-anxiety drugs help inmates tolerate cocaine cravings.
“Once they start to come off of it, if they can get some sleep, physically they’re OK,” Morris said. “They won’t have problems with detoxing except that they’re still going to have constant cravings. They crave it all the time.”
Morris and his staff treat some offenders so frequently that they begin to worry amid prolonged absences.
“If they would stay away from the stuff, I think they’d be fine, but what happens is they go right back to the same neighborhood,” Morris said. “I believe that if people were really committed to it, and really wanted to change, they could do it. They need a new environment. They need a new way of thinking about it.”