The shame of being a midlife cocaine user

One party animal reveals how they decided to stop taking cocaine
'Out of that cycle of blowouts and guilt, life feels much clearer'

My 45th year has been one of firsts: going on holiday, to a concert, on a date and having sex – all completely sober. It’s the first time in a long while that I’ve gone for dinners and drinks, and spent time with friends without relying on cocaine to get me through the night.

People tend to think of it as being something hard partiers in their 20s do, but according to the Office for National Statistics, record numbers of over-40s in England are being hospitalised for drug use – and those in their late 40s are four times more likely to die from taking cocaine than those half their age. I had first tried it aged 18, when my 25-year-old then-boyfriend gave me a bump, but it’s only in recent years that I realised my ‘fun’ habit was doing my health no good – and putting me in danger.

Things came to a head last Christmas. I was spending the holidays with a couple of close friends, using the festivities as an excuse to get beyond merry with alcohol and – as always, once I’d started drinking – cocaine. We were having so much fun, in fact, that we didn’t stop the drugs or drink until 4pm on Boxing Day.

I have zero memory of anything that happened during that time, beyond waking up after having been asleep for a few hours, and driving myself home. I was definitely over the limit, and I still feel ashamed even thinking about getting in a car in that state. The only good thing to have come out of the experience was getting home and calculating that I’d either been blackout high or drunk, or unable to leave the bathroom, for the past three days – and realising that it was time to change.

I wasn’t addicted to cocaine, or alcohol. But the pattern was often the same – I’d be having a drink with a friend on the weekend, and more and more I’d find myself suggesting: should we make a call, and have someone drop something off to make our night last longer? With some friends, I could have a couple of glasses of wine over Sunday lunch, and that would be that. But with others, one drink would turn into five, then 10, then putting in a call for a couple of bags of coke.

I never really wanted the fun to end, and it didn’t have to – not with the menu of coke grades dealers now offer, depending on what you’re willing to spend. There’s basically a marketing push: they’ll message on a Thursday, urging you to get your orders in for the weekend, which for me would typically be a gram or two a week, at a cost of £100-£200. There were more times than I can count last year when I’d go for a couple of drinks on a Friday and end up staying out all night; finding myself in someone’s kitchen or living room, the drugs making me talk in circles.

Perhaps things were easier because of my lifestyle. I don’t have a partner or kids, and work in recruitment, where taking cocaine isn’t exactly unusual. But it’s become widespread among middle class types in their 40s and 50s, and my friends with children do it too. Last Saturday night, I bumped into a couple I know who have a young daughter, and they were clearly on something.

What really hit me last Christmas was that what I had been doing wasn’t just boring, but tragic. I went into counselling, and honestly, there’s no way I would have stuck to sobriety without it. (I gave up alcohol too, as I only used cocaine once I’d been drinking.) It’s taught me that I’d been using drugs and alcohol as a crutch for the confidence I didn’t have; for the feelings of not being good enough that had plagued me since childhood. I couldn’t be the life and soul of the party unless I’d taken something. Cocaine made me feel alive, like a central part of the party; it made me bold, and excited. I realise now that, having grown up with parents who would happily drink and smoke at family events, I never learnt what it was like to be sociable without substances to take the edge off those social barriers.

Remarkable change

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for a lot of my adult life, and the change since I stopped using cocaine has been pretty remarkable. I don’t have the wild swings in my emotions, or the guilt and worry over who I might have called the night before and embarrassed myself to when I was off my face.

Without drugs or alcohol, I no longer have hangovers, have been going to the gym every weekend, and I realise that my brain works so much better like this: getting natural endorphins from exercise, which helps to keep me on an even keel. You don’t get that when you’re too much of a mess to even get off the sofa. Plus, with a history of heart disease and high blood pressure in my family, I was under no illusion that things could take a turn at any moment.

I think because I decided to stop for myself, it’s been a lot easier to part ways with cocaine and booze. But I did have a panic attack earlier this year, ahead of a weekend away to celebrate my friends’ upcoming wedding. I knew I had social anxiety (which had until this year been cleared up by the drugs), but I’d never had a panic attack before – until it came to picturing the few days we were about to spend in a house together, with everyone taking coke except me.

Lost appeal

I desperately wanted to be a part of the crowd, but while staying sober on the first night was a challenge, after that, I felt so much better. I realised that I didn’t actually want to be constantly chasing the next, bigger high, or not sleeping for an entire weekend, or feeling awful when I went back to the office on Monday. I’ve had my share of all-nighters that resulted in arriving at my desk the next morning without having been to bed – my company’s policy being that if you get your work done, they’ll turn a blind eye – but all of it was losing its appeal.

Age is probably a part of that. I bought a house last year, and things have been significantly calmer since then. One of my friends, who I used to take coke with, is about to turn 50, and she too has stopped, saying it’s just not worth the hangover any more.

Learning to love myself is something that I’d wanted to do for the longest time, and I now see that drugs and alcohol prevented me from ever reaching that point. It probably sounds ridiculous that at 45, I’m only now doing things for the first time as me (especially given how boring I used to think sober people were). Out of that cycle of blowouts and guilt, life feels much clearer.

*Author name has been changed. 

As told to Charlotte Lytton

Have you or somebody you know been impacted by midlife drug use? Let us know in the comments