Addict Lives With 'Monster' That's Waiting To Pounce

Ruben Casteneda i i

hide captionRuben Casteneda

Ruben Casteneda
Ruben Casteneda

Ruben Casteneda

Ruben Casteneda

Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

This Sunday Conversation with Ruben Castaneda was inspired by WAMU's five-part series, "Crack: The Drug that Consumed the Nation's Capital."

When Ruben Castaneda first moved to Washington, he lived his life along two separate tracks.

He was a crime reporter for one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country. But Castaneda was also a crack addict, buying drugs in the same lawless neighborhoods where he was working his stories for The Washington Post.

A year before he moved to take the reporting job, he smoked crack for the first time, in LA. He was 27.

"I knew from reading a number of articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, how destructive crack was, and how allegedly addictive it was," he says. "But in that moment, I didn't think that I could ever become an addict."

But he did become addicted. "It was like nothing I'd ever felt before," he says. "It was this intense, almost instant euphoria."

Castaneda wanted the move to Washington to be a fresh start — despite the fact that he knew he would be covering D.C.'s drug scene. In the 1980s and '90s, crack cocaine ravaged the nation's capitol, helping to earn D.C. the moniker "the murder capital of the United States." He would be surrounded by drug users and dealers on a daily basis.

"One of the hallmarks of addiction is this tremendous sense of denial," Castaneda explains. "I told myself that so long as I was doing my job, I would be OK. And ironically, I was doing my job. Here I was using crack, while I was chronicling the effects of it."

His colleagues noticed after a time that he wasn't himself, and sent him to a counselor. When he still behaved erratically, they sent him to a rehab center.

He relapsed only once, 77 days after being released, when an old contact offered him a hit. He knew he was in trouble, because he only wanted more.

"This is something that a lot of people don't understand, why someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman could resume using drugs after not using for such a long time," he says. "The addiction never dies ... I haven't used in almost 22 years, but the addiction is actually getting stronger every day. I think of it as a monster that's waiting to pounce."

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