I’ve been moved to read more and more about cocaine addiction by the continuing trials and tribulations of Darryl Strawberry. I’m having a hard time finding a recidivism rate. The more I look, the more it seems likely that the rate is around 100%. The drug agencies don’t want to advertise this, because they want addicts to try to get off. But the attempt is apparently the success. Strawberry’s aftercare folks aren’t lying when they say, “We expect this.” They do. And they expect it over and over. The point seems to be not that they try to prevent relapse, but that they control the depth of the relapse and the speed of return to attempted recovery.

I guess I’m coming to the conclusion that blaming an addict for relapse is like blaming a cancer survivor for a return of their disease. 

Now that I know that habitual use of cocaine causes a permanent change in brain chemistry that makes cocaine a biological need (much like food or sex) it is hard to be angry with the addict. And to those who say, “He didn’t have to start,” I have to explain that only about 25% of those who use cocaine become addicted. So when he started, there were a number of non-addicted people living quite unencumbered lives telling him there’d be no problem. Of course, they were wrong. But how many risks do we each take that result in unexpected consequences?

This is a hard realization for me to reach. My mother has been addicted to tranquilizers since I was eight. I must admit that I hate her for this. It exposed me to risks no child should have to live through. But her addiction is hidden by the paternalistic medical system that keeps feeding her these drugs without ever forcing her to treatment for the underlying cause. And since tranquilizers are abused by white middle and upper class Americans, this abuse is not criminalized.

Did he create his own illness? Yes, as much as a smoker causes his own lung cancer. Or as the man who eats a high fat diet contributes to possibility of colon cancer or heart disease. We do not deny care to overweight people with high blood pressure, or to diabetics who continue to eat diets that exacerbate their condition.

Give Darryl as many chances as he reaches for. I would not deny him my hand.


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