How to Break Your Casual Cocaine Habit

Adam Winstock, founder of the Global Drug Survey, has some advice for those who want to reduce their use.
02 January 2020, 10:30am
man taking cocaine
Photo: Indiapicture / Alamy Stock Photo

There's nothing as dreary as a man telling you, earnestly and with unusual linguistic verve, that he's bored of taking cocaine and that he's definitely kicking his progressively less-casual habit, only to pass you a dusty Memento DVD case with some lovingly whittled rails of gak. I have little patience for that man – largely because, in the past, I have been him, and so have intimate knowledge of the self-deceptive fog through which he wanders.

Aided by an increase in purity and availability, the UK is currently in the midst of a blizzard, with London and Bristol recently named Europe's coke capitals. The 2019 Global Drug Survey found that 41 percent of recent cocaine users want to use less, so I called its founder, addiction psychiatrist Adam Winstock, to discuss how to cut back your nights on the nosebag.

Take part anonymously in the Global Drug Survey here.

VICE: Hey Adam. First of all: when do you think a cocaine habit stops being casual?
Adam Winstock: The majority of people use moderately. I count moderately as monthly or less, and doing half a gram. That’s not risk-free, but there's enough time between use to show there's some sort of control and the amount being used isn't too concerning. Anything over that is starting to creep towards a potential loss of control.

According to the Global Drug Survey, what percentage of people use more than this?
About 20 percent, and in some countries like Scotland, 30 percent. If you're using once a week that puts you in the top 5 percent of users.

Why do you think so many people are currently using cocaine?
In the past, most people had to plan ahead a bit to get coke. But these days it’s better value, better purity and so easy to get hold of - it's helping to normalise use for some people.

How much of cutting cocaine use is about avoiding triggering people?
It's crucial. Cocaine use is about people, places and things. So if you're serious, you need to shift your social network – you need to move to people who aren't using. That's the real challenge – breaking the cycle, where most of your social network are using coke.

That’s quite hard for some people, where cocaine is a big part of their friendship group's weekend routine.
It is, unless you are really motivated. You can go out with great intentions, but it's just so easy to say, "I didn't plan on getting any, but then people were getting some: what am I going to do – say no?" Paradoxically, the ones who need to pull back the most will find it hardest, because their networks are most entranced and they'll see it as most normal.

So is it best to just avoid going out entirely?
If there’s always the same group and you know that on a Friday night you normally get some coke, you just need to tell them it’s getting too much and that you won’t see them on weekends for a while. If they’re friends who genuinely care about your wellbeing, they should be really supportive of you. Why wouldn’t they be?

How important can partners be in this process?
They can be really important. It’s more socially acceptable to say, “I’m going out with my girlfriend this weekend than “I can’t trust myself not to take drugs”. Make plans to go somewhere with them – dinner, cinema, whatever. This way you’ve spent time with them, you’ve got to bed by 1am and it’s probably been cheaper That’s the great thing: most things in life are cheaper than doing cocaine.

What about deleting you dealer’s number before you go out?
Hmm, yeah, but a lot of dealers will just WhatsApp you with a deal anyway, and if you're with a group of people someone will have a number.

What about going out later so you don’t drink as much?
Well, that works both ways. Go out early and you are more likely to have two or three pints by 9PM, then think, "Oh, it's only 9 – it's not that late to get some." But if you go out later, thinking it will reduce your drinking and likelihood of getting coke, you just arrive at the same point at 11PM and end up with a later night. I don’t think going out later is the solution: it’s people, places and things. Who are you going to hang out with? Where are you going to be? Can you remove the possibility of getting coke?

What point do you think people need to ask for help?
You need to think about whether you are using more cocaine than you planned, more recently than you want, and if you’re continuing to use despite wasting your Saturday and feeling shit on Mondays. If you recognise those things but are still not able to say no or have a break from it, then you probably want to chat with someone.

What would you recommend?
For many people it means having a couple of sessions with a psychologist and understanding what are good strategies for avoiding cocaine – we’ve covered most of them here. But maybe you need to be asking yourself: why can't you stop? It might be because you don't have other mates, might be that you feel socially anxious or not interesting, or maybe you're depressed and there's something else going on.

What would you say to someone who thinks their friend is doing too much and wants to intervene?
The right conversation at the right time can be unbelievably powerful. The principles are: do it in a quiet place when you're both sober; set the scene for them and let them know it's a really hard conversation to have; give concrete examples of why they're doing too much; don't get into arguments, and come from a place of love – they need to know you’re doing this because you really care, not because you’re judging them.

Great advice, thanks Adam!