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Drugs Cocaine and addiction

Dr. Brian Johnson, Harvard Medical School says it's rare for him to see someone use cocaine occasionally without becoming addicted. The drug, he explains, is more powerful than it was 20 years ago. "The illegal drug industry is always finding ways to make the drug more potent and, therefore, more difficult to stop," he says. "In the 80's there might have been people who could use cocaine and get away with it."

As a teenager, J.T. was self-conscious. He wanted to be part of a group that was popular with girls. Those guys smoked marijuana. So he did too.

"When I first smoked marijuana, I didn't like it," he says. "I got extremely high. I'd sit and stare at a wall. I got too, too high. I just did it to get along with everyone."

J.T. had been a good student and a talented basketball player. But now, using drugs became the important thing in his life. It never occurred to him that he could get addicted.

Dr. Johnson says this feeling of being immune is not uncommon. He has treated more than 10,000 people who are addicted to drugs. "I know a lot of people who get addicted and have terrible experiences," Dr. Johnson says. "But they went into it thinking, 'It won't happen to me. People who get addicted are foolish. They are weak. I am going to use drugs, and I'm just going to have fun with them.' Nearly everyone who gets addicted has thought that."

By high school graduation J.T.'s grades were so poor he could only get into a near-by college. But he had to maintain a "B" average, or he was out.

J.T. flunked out of school and took a job as a bartender. That's when he started to use cocaine. It became a nightly ritual, and soon he was addicted.

"I stayed up all night doing coke," J.T. says. "In the morning I'd be going home, and I'd have to put up the car windows and turn off the radio. The noise was too much. I was so sensitive from all the drugs in my system."

Driving past his high school, J.T. would see kids on their way to class. It made him wonder "How did it get to this? How did I go from being a good kid, having a good attitude, just wanting to have fun, to this?"

J.T. was living with friends. His parents didn't know what was going on until a former girlfriend called to say, "J.T. is in trouble."

J.T.'s parents confronted him, and he flew into a rage. Feeling guilty the next day, he called his mom for help. He was admitted to a treatment center where he stayed for five long, hard months. He completed treatment committed to staying clean and educating others about the dangers of drugs.

Now when J.T. hears kids say their once- or twice-a-month cocaine use is no big deal, he recognizes the denial. "You are lying to yourself," he says. "It is a big deal. You are taking a huge risk. I lost a big chunk of my life, and I'm lucky I didn't die."

Read more about the physical effects of cocaine from Dr. Johnson.

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