Quick Take:

Madison Barneaux spent their last year as a teen addicted to cocaine. The electric rush they felt after their first line rapidly turned dark. Cocaine caused them to lose 40 pounds and their connection to themselves and their family. Coming to UC Santa Cruz saved them. So did their family. Madison details their journey here and explains why we should all be talking about addiction.

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The first time I thought about trying cocaine I was 16.

Three years later, in 2019, I did it.

To be honest, it wasn’t the drug that enticed me. It was the person I was doing it with.

That was the start of the addiction.

My relationship with Alice started off as any innocent, flirtatious connection that later turned into something vile. A connection filled with jealousy, rage and substance abuse. There were many times I feared for my life.

Throughout my childhood, I was frequently obsessed with or would “cling to” — as my mother put it — certain friends. I didn’t realize how bad my need had become until Alice. Drinking beers and watching the sunset together turned into doing lines on the beer-soaked couch of whichever boy-man she was sleeping with.

I didn’t care what we did. I just wanted to be with her. In her orbit.

Those lines became my life. Life interrupted by nothingness, memories spliced into a Powerpoint of photos, clicking by. Photos interrupted by blackouts, like someone skipping through the channels on TV. Living in sentence fragments.

Enveloped in my bed sheets. Blink. “Hi, welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?” Drink after drink out the drive-through window. Blink. Sitting at Alice’s house. Blink. Those lines spread out in front of me. Blink. Rage. Blink.

I was unaware of the destruction of my natural dopamine pathways. The disappearance of me.

All I cared about was her, what made her happy, what I had to do to stay a person of interest in her life. I didn’t think of me because she didn’t. So why should I?

Before I tried cocaine, I imagined it like an irresistible surge of energy. Euphoria breaking through the freckles on my skin.

It’s not like that at all. Although my first high was blissful.

My energy boost got me fixated at a wall thinking about the complexities of a skateboarding video for nearly four hours. As the video replayed, the skateboards became my thoughts, each one whirring past one another almost colliding.

I kept doing it. Knowing it was bad for me. Even when the bliss didn’t last.

I didn’t eat. I lost 40 pounds. I didn’t sleep.

All I did was survive. I survived until just surviving started to look like dying.

Madison Barneaux lost 40 pounds while addicted to cocaine.
Madison Barneaux lost 40 pounds while addicted to cocaine. Credit: Via Madison Barneaux

My schoolwork got tossed aside, my grades at my community college tanked. As my body weight continued to rapidly decrease, my parents noticed and started asking questions.

My cocaine-dilated eyes couldn’t see the danger I was in. My cocaine addiction deepened because my Alice addiction continued.

‘It was at my parents’ dining room table where I knew it was over’

I grew up in a small town on the Central Coast of California; my parents were both loving, and I’ve never worried about my basic necessities. My dad is now a retired firefighter and my mom is a local politician.

Because of their jobs and what they saw in the world, my parents always talked to me and my sister about the dangers of drugs. I was brought up believing that I would never do any drug that fell under the “hard drug” category.

It took only two lines to get me hooked.

I remember telling myself it was a “one-time thing,” that it was only so “I could spend more time with Alice.”

I was hooked for a year on both.

To others, a year is not that long, but if my family hadn’t intervened, it would have been 10 times longer. Maybe forever.

I remember coming home after several days of not contacting my parents. I was barely functioning, wanting more than anything to sit down, eat my Jack in the Box and watch TV. I’ll never forget the way my dad looked at me when he sat me down and told me he knew my quicksand secret that wasn’t a secret. The bones protruding from my chest and the bags under my eyes and my complete withdrawal had given me away.

Thank God they did.

It was the right moment.

The bathroom floor — during a bad high a few weeks earlier — had already convinced me I had to stop. But it was at my parents’ dining room table where I knew it was over.

They took my car and drug-tested me regularly. They helped me know I was loved and special and didn’t need Alice.

I found myself again in Santa Cruz

It wasn’t until I moved to Santa Cruz to complete my degree at UCSC in 2020 that I realized how thankful I am to have such a loving family to both pull me out and see me through my recovery. That move to Santa Cruz saved my life.

Without them, I wouldn’t be able to tell my story — and hear others tell theirs. I wouldn’t be able to be a part of a community that heals its members instead of shames them.

The last time I ever let the white powder pass through my nostrils was about two years ago.

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The last time I let myself go through the horror of tasting what many users call the “drip” was in an Olive Garden bathroom in Morro Bay in June 2020. The “drip” is essentially the remnants of the coke that slides its grimy gasoline hands down your throat after you do a line. It makes your whole throat numb, as if you’ve swallowed Novocaine.

I was with three others. We stood huddled in the wheelchair-accessible stall staring at my friend’s iPhone.

Three neatly cut lines sat on her black screen looking up at us.


“You want the first one? I know you are fiending,” my friend shoved her phone over to me. I laughed, put my vape in my pocket and took the last line of my life.

Coke is nothing like the box office experience Hollywood advertises. I wasn’t a “Wolf of Wall Street.” I was a 19-year-old doing lines in a beige public bathroom stall. My highs weren’t making me rich; they were making me $80 poorer every three days.

The last time was not blissful. My heart felt like I had just run miles, but my body had not moved. It was horrifyingly thrilling.

After the last line of my life, my friends quickly prepared another for me. As they began fumbling for the dime bag that was rolled into one of their socks, something in me shifted.

My heart started talking to me.

It wasn’t just my normal singular heartbeats anymore; this rhythm was a conversation, a plea. As the familiar high caressed my throat with its foul hands, my heart felt as though it was beating outside of my chest. Like you see in those old-time cartoons.

“I can’t be 19 and having a heart attack,” I remember thinking to myself.

I can see my friend’s faces as they watched me grasp my way to the linoleum floor. My heart was beating so fast it hurt; my breath became shallow.

They were laughing. As my heart and I battled, the “drip” flooded its way down my throat with so much force I could feel the numbness in my stomach.

My eyes watered as I looked up at the two women staring down at me with glee. And finally, I stopped listening to my high and started listening to my heart.

I was done.

As the people I do not call friends anymore laughed at my frail body clinging to life on that bathroom floor, I told myself I did not want to feel this way anymore.

I left those friends. I left Alice. I embraced my family — accepted their pleas for help.

Why I share my story

The last time I did cocaine was two years ago.

The last time I thought about doing cocaine was last week.

I moved to Hawaii in July, right after UCSC graduation. I needed a break. A place to reconnect with myself and my interests and spend time with my girlfriend, Julia, who knows my story and values me. That’s quite a difference from the other people who I used to call friends.

Madison Barneaux and their girlfriend, Julia Loretto, in Manoa Valley, Oahu, where they now live.
Madison Barneaux and their girlfriend, Julia Loretto, in Manoa Valley, Oahu, where they now live. Credit: Via Madison Barneaux

Still, almost every week since the Olive Garden line, I have thought about cocaine. One thing about addiction that many people who haven’t experienced it don’t understand is that even if you do get sober and remove everything about the drug from your life, the idea is still there. The temptation clings like a dead bug wiped across a windshield.

I don’t regret trying it. Trying it and overcoming it has made me the strong person I am today. But that is not the reason I share my story.

I tell my story to help others struggling, including loved ones like my parents.

When I started at my first job in Santa Cruz at Starbucks in fall 2020, a coworker told me he had a roommate who sold coke. He told me to let him know if that was my “vibe.”

I was tempted. But I told him straight up about my complicated past with the powder. His demeanor changed.

“Yeah me too, honestly.” He looked down at the ground and paused for a moment. After work that day, he stopped me as I was walking to my car. He told me he had been sober for a year and his roommate was not helping.

We talked about the trials of addiction. It was my first time talking about my experience. It made me realize there is a hidden community that wants to share these stories. We hide out of fear and stigma. Before that day, I never wanted to speak about it. Now I see why talking heals.

Today, I’m a part of a community that is on its way to more healing and less stigma

It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, cocaine doesn’t care, it doesn’t discriminate. It just wants you addicted.

I still do think about trying cocaine again. The offer usually disguises itself as a social interaction or just a “lil weekend fun.” Under all the pretense, cocaine lingers, waiting for me to come back into its quicksand.

It better get used to waiting.

Madison Barneaux graduated from high school in 2018 and attended Cuesta Community College in 2019, the year of their addiction. Madison transferred to UC Santa Cruz in 2020 and graduated with a degree in literature in June 2022. They currently live in Hawaii with their girlfriend and their cat, Agent Hotch. They are exploring their career options.

Editor’s note: Lookout has changed Alice’s name to protect her privacy.