A survivor's story
Woman moves away to escape the city's cocaine crowd

NNSL (Jan 22/99) - Mary Louise Liske, a former resident of Yellowknife, moved to Rae-Edzo to get away from the lifestyle she was living.

She was running with a crowd of approximately 50 cocaine users in Yellowknife. It took the death of her common-law husband last January to convince her she had to get out of the cocaine crowd before she, too, became a statistic.

Liske is 29 years old, with two children. She was using heavily for over three years when she was with her late common-law husband, who committed suicide by overdosing last year. He was 39 years old.

Liske nearly lost her life to addiction. She lived for the next hit and nothing more.

Her story of addiction began with her first hit of crack cocaine and although she did not try it again for a year or two, she knew she was hooked.

"Crack is so intense with the high," says Liske. "When I first did it, it got me right there."

Dr. Ross Wheeler, a physician who works with drug and alcohol addicts daily in Yellowknife, explains that instant addiction to cocaine is no myth.

"It's a highly-addictive drug and even more addictive than heroin," says Dr. Wheeler. "It scores in the 90s whereas heroin scores in the 60s for addiction. It has a profound effect on the pleasure system in the brain. The chemicals in the brain are altered for sure.... The brain is saying 'I will not experience pleasure for you without cocaine.'"

Liske preferred smoking cocaine, but she said she would do it in any way that was possible given the situation.

"I did it every day," says Liske. "Snorting it you just get the numbness but not an intense high (like smoking it)."

"Your nose is numb, your mouth is numb and a tingle in your head and energy."

The high from snorting lasts approximately 25-40 minutes. Smoking it in the crack form, it lasts only five to 10 minutes. But it's the intensity and short duration that make it so addictive.

"When it's over you just want more," says Liske. "When it's over you feel so down. You feel like you have no life without it. All you think about is the next hit and how you are going to get it."

The depression and anxiety that Liske felt comes from a very real chemical detachment or disfunction in the brain inhibiting the feeling of pleasure.

"A large user will not feel pleasure without (cocaine) for up to a year or two (after rehabilitation), whereas it takes about six months after with a booze addict," says Wheeler.

Liske and her late common-law husband spent most of the hours in a day either doing cocaine or looking for their next hit. The habit was costing them about $1,500 a week.

"We were selling our furniture and selling everything," said Liske. "We were borrowing from friends and relatives. I would say I needed grocery money. We would do three or four grams a day. Five or 10 when we had the money.

"My common-law, he had to leave Yellowknife because he owed a lot of money. He did drugs (in Edmonton) and got caught. He spent a month in remand. He was supposed to go back for a hearing. When he came out (of remand) he had no money and he needed drugs. He didn't want to live. It can really disturb your mind. It gets to the point you need it and if you don't have it you go bonkers. What he did (committed suicide) it really opened my eyes."

Liske decided that was it for her and cocaine, but kicking the habit is not easy. It took Liske two tries in rehab and a lot of willpower to stay out of it, especially when she was around friends who use.

Liske is one of three that she knows of who went clean out of a group of 20 close friends that use.

Liske doesn't avoid her old friends, however. She tries to see them, in fact.

"I want to be there to help," said Liske. "I want to show them they can quit and have that rewarding life they have been searching for."