Conor’s story of cocaine addiction: ‘I just wanted more and more and more’

Conor Harris was 17 the first time he tried the drug. It soon became a destructive habit

Conor Harris: ‘How did I end up here, aged 19, lying at the side of the Liffey with no clothes on, trying to take my own life?’ Photograph: Damien Eagers

Conor Harris: ‘How did I end up here, aged 19, lying at the side of the Liffey with no clothes on, trying to take my own life?’ Photograph: Damien Eagers

 

Conor Harris remembers the first time he tried cocaine. A promising young Kildare footballer, in fifth year and aged 17, Harris had gone to his school’s sixth-year graduation ceremony. One of the older lads was doing cocaine and, curious, he decided to try.

“When I first did it I knew it was for me. I felt like I had arrived. I felt like this is what I needed in my life, because I was an energetic person anyway, I was loud, and when I took it I was, like, holy sh*t – and I just wanted more and more and more.”

His drug use quickly escalated through the summer after fifth year, and soon he was using cocaine all weekend, from Friday night to Sunday night.

During Harris’s final year at school his older friends were attending university nearby, so he also began doing cocaine with them on weeknights. Then he started dealing the drug, to fund his habit. “I would go meet people and started going to parties to sell drugs,” he says.

By the time his Leaving Cert came around, Harris was regularly using cocaine, and the drug had started to “take control” of him. “It escalated to the point where I was using cocaine while sitting the Leaving Cert; just before I’d walk into the exam I’d have a couple of bumps.”

It was on his Leaving Cert holiday in Croatia that he stopped getting any enjoyment from the drug; it had become an addiction. “I was using cocaine all day, every day, in Croatia, and I didn’t sleep for five days. When I got back, things got really, really bad. I was using it every day. I was using it during work; I even used it one time before going out to play a football match,” he says.

His addiction and mental state continued to spiral throughout the next year. He took to lying in bed “locked away, with the curtains closed, using cocaine all day, every day. Pissing in a bottle in my room and pouring it out the bedroom window. I couldn’t leave my room any more, because I was that afraid of the world and afraid of what I’d become.”

His mental health crumbled. “The sun would be shining outside, and I’d be in my dark bedroom, with thousands of euro worth of cocaine down my jocks ... All while this was happening my heart was so sore, and every time I took a line I thought I was going to die.”

Mother’s Day 2019 marked the young Kildare man’s lowest point – a suicide attempt was only prevented by a friend who happened to return to where he had seen Harris earlier. “I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was cry and cry: how did I end up here, aged 19, lying at the side of the Liffey with no clothes on, trying to take my own life?”

This was the moment when he began to believe his life could get better. He began attending drug counselling. Although he was still using cocaine, he says, he had “that bit of desire in me now that I wanted to get well, and that’s why I kept going back, and I ended up getting into a treatment centre in July and did five months in a rehabilitation centre”.

Now two years clean from cocaine, Harris is doing an apprenticeship and getting on with life. He says he has found that his purpose is “to help other people, to pass on what I’ve been given and share my story”.

His experience with cocaine may not be typical, but it isn’t unique. There is growing concern about the long-term consequences of the unprecedented levels of cocaine use among young people.

Read Cocaine nation: ‘The cliche of the rich man’s drug is long gone. It is everywhere now’ here

Jack Ryan is a final-year student at Trinity College Dublin and a freelance writer