"I got off easy," he said. "I only blew about $4,000."
This former cocaine addict -- a single male, age 26, living in New York's Greenwich Village -- realized that his problem was serious when he began using the drug to buy sex from prostitutes.
"The dealer I was buying coke from started bringing people into the house," he recalled in a recent interview. "He brought one woman over for a few nights, then this other woman. I'd give them $100 and say, 'Go get a gram,' and we'd freebase together. Sex and 'base."
In most cases, according to interviews with counselors and physicians at six treatment programs, quitting cocaine requires an intensive Alcoholics Anonymous-style program, involving total abstinence and a support group. Sometimes medications are used to ease the craving.
"Can people stop these substances? It's very hard in the first few days or weeks," said Dr. Frank Gawin, who is prescribing a drug treatment to wean addicts from cocaine at Yale University. "But so far, success rates [for cocaine addicts] are better than those for opiate abuse treatments.
"You can draw whatever conclusions you want from that."
One conclusion, experts suggest, is that until recently cocaine abuse had been confined to people with large incomes, and pressure to quit was applied by the employer.
By contrast, many other drugs of abuse, such as heroin, have been prevalent among the poor, who traditionally have received less medical attention than the rest of society.
The former addict described here, who asked that he not be identified because he feared losing his $50,000-a-year job as a television cameraman, had been snorting cocaine in small amounts for three years until last summer "and never had a problem."
"Then I read about 'crack' in The New York Times," he said, referring to a front-page story about the drug's appearance in New York. "I called up a drug dealer friend and said, 'Hey, I'd like to try it.' "
Crack is a solidified form of freebase cocaine that is heated and inhaled.
"They were selling it four blocks away from my house," he said. "I'd go there at night, and there'd be 20 people standing around." People selling the small vials of the drug were "very competitive," he said, and often there would be five or six dealers on the same corner.
He began using the drug "almost every night."
After an initial intense feeling of euphoria, there would be "another two to three minutes of feeling stimulated. Then, I would be very nervous, very paranoid, jumping if a car backfired." When the cocaine supply ran out, he and people with him began "Jonesing" -- searching compulsively for bits of the drug on the floor, a common practice.
"I would spend money until there was no money left in my wallet. Still, I could always go to the cash machine.
"Before I knew it, it would be 6 o'clock in the morning, I'd spent $300, and probably would call in sick."
He was able to hide his drug use from his employer because he was doing studio work, which he said is not very demanding. But his drug use intensified.
"The end of December through January was hell," he said, and it was then that he talked about the problem with his father, who sent him to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York for treatment.
With a promising new drug therapy and regular meetings of an abstinence group, he has quit cocaine. But there have been close calls.
"I'm still fighting, going to group therapy," he said. "It's still a little bit of a struggle."
The drug dealers have left his street as a result of neighborhood pressure, so he does not face that regular reminder of his drug use. But once at work recently, he was offered cocaine and almost accepted it. Another time, walking down the street, he saw a small vial of crack on the road.
"There were two crumbs inside," he said. "I looked at it, and then I threw it away. I said, 'No, I can't, not again.'
"You never really remember the [bad] parts of it. I'm amazed I could have been that stupid."