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Julie Burchill: Why I’ve given up cocaine

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

5 January 2019

9:00 AM

It always amuses me at this time of year to observe the fuss people make about quitting booze for a month. Because three years ago, after three decades of taking cocaine on a daily basis, I gave it up overnight. Over-eating, gambling, shopping, pornography — there’s no cheap thrill that can’t be mastered with a little self-control.

I first took cocaine as a teenager working at the New Musical Express. As someone who had presented herself as a fearless punk when she was actually a shy virgin, I was already a big fan of the amphetamine sulphate, so when a man from a major record label said ‘May I?’ and starting racking out lines on my desk one day I was anticipating the familiar burn of baby laxative with the merest soupçon of speed. Imagine my horror when I experienced something far more pleasant! Instead of the desire to argue about whether the Sex Pistols were better than the Clash, I wanted to give the world a hug.


I soon found myself in the eye of the maelstrom that was the 1980s London media, making mad money and spending it on that thing you spend it on when you’ve got too much money. Ironically, the effects of speed and cocaine are very similar. But the reason cocaine is more expensive is because you pay for what you don’t get; the crash landing is softer. It’s the party drug par excellence in that it keeps you going. It kept my party going. And then, I’d simply had enough. You hear so much rubbish about Cold Turkey Cocaine Hell that it was only a couple of weeks ago that I read anything I could identify with on the subject: Keith Richards talking to Rolling Stone magazine on why he quit drinking. ‘It’s been about a year now… I got fed up with it… It was time to quit, just like all the other stuff.’

At the risk of bringing the party down, there’s a serious reason why I gave up. Cocaine is like pornography; everyone wants to believe that regardless of the misery and broken lives which litter the production of everybody else’s kicks, the source we alone opt for is magically free of exploitation, torture and death. In my day we kidded ourselves that growing the coca plant gave the farmers of South America a good living, which was pathetically self-deluding enough, but it’s always easier to lie to ourselves about the plight of people in faraway countries of which we know nothing. Today, it would be an actual moral cretin who could ignore the human collateral which is left lying in the wake of the ‘cheeky’ line of coke which brings a sparkle to the eye of the after-dinner educated.

The NHS recently published a guide to assist the ‘very young’ children being recruited in their thousands by the drug-running County Lines gangs and whose admittance to hospital with knife injuries has almost doubled in three years to 573. ‘Clean-eaters on coke’ are one of our more grotesque modern types, like the humanitarian aid worker who justifies buying sex with impoverished women because he is, after all, one of the good guys. But what good is a clean gut when there’s blood on your hands?

I got away from cocaine without doing lasting damage to myself — but I’ll never know what I did to others. That’s something I’ll just have to live with.


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