Cocaine, once a hip designer drug of the ’70s and ’80s party scenes, may look a little like the senior citizen among today’s trendy drugs. But recent news reports show it has staying power because there are folks who can’t resist its pull, even in the workplace.
Coke is still turning up at job sites with varied outcomes for those who sell it or use it, or both.
Just recently, a Rockland County Highway Department foreman in New York was accused of trafficking powder and crack-cocaine via his company’s vehicle during work hours. In California, two employees of the Sacramento Department of Utilities resigned after it was discovered they were using cocaine and drinking alcohol while on the clock. And earlier this year, a New Jersey surgeon’s medical license was suspended indefinitely because of his alleged recent cocaine use.
Data also suggest cocaine use is up again, a reversal of a two-year trend that showed a decrease in cocaine showing up positive in employer-issued drug tests. According to Quest Diagnostics’ 2015 analysis, there have been “steady increases in workplace positivity for cocaine in the general US workforce during the past two years, reversing a prolonged period of decline.”
So, though years have passed since its heyday, cocaine’s still got it, but why?
Failure to stay away from drug use on the job has its consequences, and it’s likely people are aware of the risks of using and getting caught, but what makes some workers use cocaine at work or use enough of it to the point where it could affect their work anyway?
The pressure to stay on top in demanding professions, such as attorneys, doctors, and Wall Street investment bankers, among others, motivates many cocaine users to keep the substance in supply so they can enhance their performance and stay on top of things–or just look like they’re on top of things.
The addictive powder stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America has been inhaled, snorted, or smoked throughout the ages to speed people up, making them feel highly charged and energetic. Its potent effects raise the brain’s levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and the brain’s reward center.
“Cocaine just numbs you and makes you do things at super speed,” said Phillipe (not his real name), a junior portfolio manager at a top-tier European bank, told Vice writer Terrance Cainer, who also detailed his drug use on the job in his commentary, “LSD, Coke and Edibles: How Various Drugs Affect You at Work.” “It’s like you start realizing all the stuff you need to do, and it just starts getting done.”
An Albuquerque, NM,-based drug dealer named Shorts told writer Erin Rose for her Salon article, “The True Lives of Low-Level Drug Dealers”, that he likes to deal with professionals, and professionals do cocaine.
“I like to sell to the lawyers, the doctors, you know, people who have something to lose,” he said.
Rose wrote, “The doctors and lawyers come into the bar where I’ve met Shorts, and I watch them from a distance. I hear them talking about the lines they’re doing or have done, about waking up still f****d up, about 36-hour shifts at the hospital. The drugs ease the stress of lost cases and long shifts. The drugs help them keep up or wind down, and make them feel pepped up, ready to go.
“Or the drugs make them feel adventurous, post-paperwork. Get a few drinks in ’em, and these Whole Foods shoppers and REI members, these anesthesiologists, marketers, and engineers, start swapping stories about their exploits. Hearing them talk, you might even think the drugs were legal.”
An Upper Just to Get Through the Workday
Cainer wrote that he and others who worked in customer service at a hectic banking call center used cocaine at work “to get through the day.” For him, doing cocaine was more about boredom in a job he hated and a desire to experiment than it was about trying to keep up with a demanding job, he said.
He recalled how using the substance affected his work. “Concentration is improved, and fatigue is fought. Talking is effortless and obnoxiously enthusiastic,” he wrote while describing how the substance affected his workday.
But there are downsides to nursing a cocaine habit at work, too. Cainer wrote that he “found it much harder to hold my temper with difficult customers.” He also said, “The re-dose time is way too frequent if you’re tied to your phone with strict time logs and persistent line managers. The signs are obvious. The price is high. The health risks are higher.”
Then there’s the matter of having your focus hijacked by thoughts of getting your next hit when you should be thinking about work. Going to work after a coke binge can be disastrous for your work ethic.
Cainer shared, “… There’s the niggling, insatiable desire in the back of your mind that you could probably just do with a little bit more right now. And now. And now.”
That’s likely because cocaine’s high doesn’t last long. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), snorting it, it can last 15 to 30 minutes. If smoking it, it may last between five and 10 minutes.
Users posting to a Bluelight.org forum about doing cocaine at work shared their experiences, and a person named “Venrak” wrote about having one that is similar to Cainer’s. Venrak also warned that if a worker’s performance improves while on cocaine, that person may be setting a standard that he or she cannot meet when sober. Cocaine gives users an inflated sense of confidence, just one of several side effects of the drug.
“Your work may suffer, which is bad, but it could also be positively affected. I used to work in a kitchen and I used to dose coke/amphetamines; My performance skyrocketed and after a while, it became expected of me to perform at that level all the time. This was hard when sober.”
Not Always Just a Bump (or Two) in the Night
There are some people who do their coke on a recreational level away from work, possibly with the intention of never having their occasional use affect where they earn their income. But even such habits have a way of blurring those boundaries.
Occasional use can lead to a full addiction to cocaine, and while bumps, which are small amounts of a powdered drug, may sound harmless and help users keep their cocaine use at work low-key, their behavior after they do a bump or two may blow their cover.
A 2015 study published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology that explored how cocaine use affects users’ short-term emotions in social situations found one small dose of cocaine could decrease their ability to pick up on negative emotions in others.
Researchers gave 24 recreational cocaine users one 300 milligram dose of cocaine orally each and then tested them an hour to two hours later to measure their response to several emotions, such as fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and happiness.
According to the study’s abstract, “Findings show that cocaine impaired recognition of negative emotions; this was mediated by the intensity of the presented emotions.” Users were able to better pick up on high-intensity expressions of anger and disgust, researchers said. But sadness was more difficult for them to detect.
A 2016 study of regular cocaine and methamphetamine users in prison also found that both substances could impair users’ basic ability to distinguish right from wrong because of damage to the part of the brain that is responsible for processing and evaluating emotions.
An inability to recognize negative emotions while high on cocaine may clue fellow employees or a manager that something is amiss.
Physical Signs of Cocaine Addiction – What Happens When You Do Coke
Signs of abuse of cocaine use at work or use that’s affecting one’s work can include:
- Leaving and returning to the room in multiple short intervals
- Noticeable mood changes upon short absence from the room
- Short-lived euphoria
- Excitability, talking, or exhibiting a rapid rate of speech
- Shallow breathing
Here’s what happens when you do coke. Cocaine use damages the brain, heart, blood vessels, and lungs, and has been known to cause sudden death. Cocaine is responsible for more emergency room visits in the United States than any other illegal drug. Cocaine causes stress to the heart. It increases heart rate and blood pressure while constricting the arteries supplying blood to the heart, and can lead to a sudden heart attack in otherwise healthy individuals. Cocaine can also trigger arrhythmia, which are irregular heart rhythms that can be deadly.
Cocaine can cause a stroke in people of all ages by constricting blood vessels in the brain. Cocaine can also cause seizures and lead to bizarre or violent behavior. Snorting cocaine damages the nose and sinus cavities, and can cause nasal perforation. Smoking crack cocaine irritates the lungs and can cause permanent lung damage. Cocaine constricts blood vessels supplying the gut, which causes oxygen starvation of these organs and can lead to ulcers, or perforation of the stomach or intestines. Cocaine can cause rhabdomyolysis, which is sudden, overwhelming kidney failure. Regular cocaine use can accelerate the long-term kidney damage caused by high blood pressure. Chronic cocaine use can also impair sexual function in both genders.
When Drug Use Ends the Party… and the Job
There are users who may enjoy cocaine away from work, but the consequences end up hitting them hardest in their pockets and in the places where they make their money.
In one of this year’s most high-profile cases involving cocaine in the US, married TV reporters Som and Krystin Lisaius of Tucson, Ariz., partook in cocaine during an at-home birthday celebration, which resulted in them losing their jobs and facing jail time. The pair were indicted on drug and child abuse charges earlier this year after cocaine was found in their then 4-month-old daughter’s system.
According to reports, Krystin breastfed the baby reportedly 12 hours after allegedly using cocaine on the night of the party. The couple took the baby to a hospital after she became lethargic and unresponsive after she was fed. The child was later tested, and cocaine was found in her system and a search at the couple’s home turned up cocaine.
First Recreational Cocaine Use, Then Addiction
The cocaine drug is still viewed as a status symbol in some circles (the purer the cocaine, the classier a person can appear to his or her friends, says one article) and is used at get-togethers, even dinner parties where use has been “normalized.”
Not everyone who casually uses cocaine is going to develop an addiction, but chances are many will.
“Addiction doesn’t always look the way people assume,” Dr. Richard Bowskill, Priory Hospital’s medical director, said in The Guardian article, “My secret life as a high-functioning drug user,” which was written anonymously by a writer who shares experiences they’ve had with cocaine.
“Maybe people aren’t taking the drug every day or every weekend, but when they do take it, they find it harder to control themselves,” Bowskill said.
Cocaine’s short-lived highs keep people coming back for more, which spirals into other things, including addiction.