The nice and wholesome mom you saw at school could be using cocaine to get high. In secret, to relieve the stresses of parenthood. Polly Dunbar explores the reasons middle-class is so successful Mums are quickly becoming the largest users of class A drugs

Louisa* checked the monitor tomake sure her toddler was asleep, then popped her head around the door of the living room, where her six-year-old was transfixed by Go Jetters. Satisfied nobody needed her in that moment, she raced to her en-suite bathroom, rolled up a £20 note and snorted a line of cocaine from the toilet lid.

She’d felt exhausted after a long half-term morning at soft play, but now her energy levels were rocketing. By the time her son had woken from his nap at 2pm, she’d cleaned the kitchen, put a wash on and started the prep for dinner.

‘That’s the only time I’ve ever taken coke during the daytime while looking after the kids and I’m not proud of doing it,’ says Louisa, a 42-year-old events manager who lives in a spacious house in a fashionable part of South London. ‘My husband would go ballistic if he knew. However, I needed something to help me get through the day. I knew I had some left over from the weekend and I thought, where’s the harm?’ 

As shocking as this may sound, Louisa does not have to combine childcare and cocaine. Middle-class use of the drug is at an all-time high in Britain and ‘spiralled  out of control’ during the stress and isolation of the pandemic, according to a recent report. A colossal 873,000 16- to 59-year-olds reported using cocaine in 2019-2020, an increase of at least 290 per cent in the past decade – due, in large part, to the ease with which users can order it to be delivered to their door, just like a pizza.

My 6-year-old daughter was already asleep when the dealer came on a moped. 

It is also thriving in the dark side of this boom. Referrals for addiction treatment rose by 300 per cent last year – many of them ordinary, middle-class mothers like Louisa – while deaths from cocaine use are also soaring. In the past 10 years, women have seen an increase of more than 800% in their deaths from cocaine use, going up from 16 in 2010 and to 158 by 2020. The long-term effects of prolonged use can lead to heart attacks, strokes and fits. There are also mental health problems like paranoia and depression.

Recently, home secretary Priti Patel urged police forces to ‘make an example’ of middle-class users of the drug by naming and shaming them. She intends to target ‘high-value individuals’ to change the perception that class-A drugs can be taken without consequence when, in reality, the impact ranges from gang violence and ‘county lines’ exploitation – where teenagers are forced to become dealers – on British streets to murder in Central and South America.

‘Middle-class women who have money are major users,’ says Charles Moseley, who runs addiction counselling service Stop Now. ‘We often don’t see middle-class people as being problem users, but most of the money fuelling the criminal activity comes from them.’

Many women find it exhausting to balance work and home life. He says cocaine could help by making the situation seem easier. ‘If you take it once at a party, it makes you feel energetic, confident and clever. But over time, it often becomes more a feature of your life and the negatives start adding up – you’re unable to function the next day, or you’re lying to your partner, or shouting at your children. Gradually, it becomes a problem.’

Louisa’s cocaine use began in her 20s, when she and her friends would take a line or two at parties. Pete, her solicitor husband, would often take Louisa’s drug. ‘We’d have the occasional blow-out weekend, or we’d take drugs at a festival, but it wasn’t the norm,’ she says.

Pete lost interest in their lives as their 30s drew near, and they began to settle down with their friends and have children. ‘His job was very serious and he didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise it,’ says Louisa.

‘But my work in events has always been very sociable with lots of parties, and it was totally normal among my friends to take coke, even discreetly at work events. I’d take it to give me energy when I was tired, or if I needed a boost when I was meeting lots of people.’

After her first child was born in 2015, ‘My social life became about dinner parties rather than going out, and one of my new mum friends would always order coke,’ she says. ‘I started ordering it myself – I’d just WhatsApp the dealer she used and he’d bring it round to my house – and I’d take it with friends pretty much every weekend. Pete knew, but he didn’t mind because I was always able to function the next day.’

She admits that her child intake has increased since her second baby was born in 2019. ‘I reduced my hours at work because of the kids, but I find looking after them exhausting and often miss my old life,’ she says. ‘During lockdown, friends in our bubble whose kids went to the same nursery would come over in the evenings and we started taking coke more frequently than previously, just out of boredom and stress. It became a routine for me when lockdown ended.

‘Now I often take it on a Thursday evening as well as a Friday and Saturday. I don’t add up how much I spend, but it would probably run to hundreds of pounds a month. Pete hates me taking this much because I’m often grumpy and irritable and I get incredibly tired the day after I’ve taken it – coke makes it really hard to sleep. It can sometimes make my heart race and cause anxiety. I need to cut back, but my circle of friends all take at least the same amount and I know I’d have to see them a lot less.’

Charles Moseley explains that Louisa and other women are protected to some degree from the effects of cocaine. ‘Middle-class women have wealth and support networks which allow them to keep functioning, so they have further to fall than those with less money.

‘But at some point, regular cocaine users do tip over the edge,’ he continues. ‘Over time they start to prioritise it above other things and their responsibilities begin to fall by the wayside. My clients have experienced losing their jobs and having relationships destroyed. They have also developed severe mental-health problems, such as extreme paranoia. 

Claire’s use of the drug was the catalyst for the disintegration of her marriage. She was a Surrey-based IT consultant at 46 years old. However, her addiction to cocaine began in her mid-thirties.

‘I felt euphoric and so much more confident than usual,’ she says. ‘I’m normally quite reserved in social settings, but I loved the sense that I was charming everyone I met.’ 

Claire began to use the drug every day within a couple of months. She first bought it from her friends, then ordered it for delivery to her house on Friday nights. ‘My daughter was six and asleep in bed the first time a dealer arrived on a moped to deliver it to me, and I remember feeling stressed and guilty about what I was doing,’ she says.

‘It felt horribly seedy, but I had two friends coming over and we wanted to let off steam after a long week at work. My daughter fell asleep upstairs while John, my husband, was drinking with coworkers. We took it in our living room. The next day, neither of them was any the wiser.’

John found the bag of cocaine hidden in his drawer one day and discovered John’s secret. ‘He was shocked – he’s never taken class-A drugs and he couldn’t believe that I was doing it,’ she says. ‘We had a huge row and he told me to stop or he’d leave me. He even threatened to report me to social services for doing it when our daughter was at home.’

She didn’t touch the drug for months, but was offered it at a friend’s house one night and quickly slipped back into her former habit. ‘I never thought my use was any kind of addiction or problem, because I only took it at weekends and was always able to look after my daughter the day after, even though I did feel pretty terrible,’ she says.

‘But when John found out I’d started doing it again, our relationship fell apart. He said he didn’t trust me because I’d lied and he was worried about our daughter, which made me furious – I’ve never been an unfit mother.’

Their divorce proceedings are expected to be completed soon. The couple is currently divorcing. Claire, their daughter, spends weekends at home with her father. Claire confesses that she also uses this time to get cocaine with her friends.

‘There’s a group of us who are all separated or divorced and since the end of lockdown, we’ve rediscovered going out,’ she says. ‘Obviously I miss my daughter when she’s at John’s, but I must admit I feel liberated since we split up and I can have fun without anyone nagging me. I eat well, go to the gym and hold down a very successful career.’

According to Charles Moseley, however, ‘At some point, most people whose use has become a problem will realise it’s time to stop. But getting away from a pattern of behaviour that you believe to be in some way beneficial is very hard.’

He works to help clients change their outlook. ‘It’s much simpler to quit if you realise that there are actually no benefits to cocaine use and many downsides,’ he says. ‘The reality is that whatever your social class or profession, it can destroy lives.’

It’s a hard truth Louisa is all too aware of. ‘I wouldn’t describe myself as a cokehead, although deep down I know I do probably take too much,’ she admits. ‘The idea of my life falling apart terrifies me, but at this stage, I don’t know how easy it would be to quit.’

Stop Now is available at for further information