From Fall 2016 Print Edition, “Transitions”
“How does a professional drug dealer end up with a PhD, teaching at UCLA? Israeli-born, Professor Adi Jaffe went from selling drugs to a well-respected statistics professor in the UCLA psychology department.”
According to the online Addiction Center, college students are, nationally, the overwhelming majority of drug abusers – whether from stress, curiosity or peer pressure. Professor Adi Jaffe’s intense experience with multiple forms of substance abuse motivated him to never go back to where he had once been. In an interview, Jaffe gives a full explanation of his experiences.
Jaffe interacted with the wrong people and started drinking at age 14. Heavy use of marijuana began in high school and continued on to college. At one point, he experienced an intense breakup. With the drugs made available to him to avoid depression, he began experimenting. Because his friends were also using drugs, he gained access to cocaine, ecstasy and various hallucinogens.
His substance abuse heavily affected his school work. Jaffe began to not show up for tests and assignments. His drug-induced inability to focus immensely lowered his academic standings. After just barely transferring from State University in Buffalo to UCLA, he thought that his addictions were fading away. His temporary recuperation ended when his social life began. Jaffe was 20 when he started drinking with friends and even dated a girl who jointly participated in abusing drugs with him. By his fourth year in college, drugs had become normal in his everyday life and his use of Ecstasy became a weekly occurance. Consequently, his grades plummeted.
Before he knew it, Jaffe had become a professional drug dealer. This was not a conscious decision. Jaffe began selling some of his own drugs to close friends on campus. Soon after, other students approached him for his supply, and Jaffe started buying larger quantities of drugs, which allowed him to use drugs for free. He received requests for various substances he was not familiar with, so he went to seek them out in order to sell them for profit. Jaffe eventually did this on a regular basis and transformed into a professional drug dealer.
Drug dealing became Jaffe’s full time job. In 1999, one class short of graduating, Jaffe dropped out of school, taking on drug dealing on full time. He owned a recording studio in the Westwood area (Olympic and Sepulveda) as a cover-up for his enterprise selling various substances. Jaffe rose to become the top in his field, dealing drugs to an average of 400-500 clients in total.
Dealing drugs, Jaffe had to deal with police officers as well. He was arrested a total of four times and, using drug money, he hired lawyers. His last arrest was the most serious; he had gotten into a motorcycle accident, and when the police took off his jacket, they found a half pound of cocaine in it. Ultimately, they realized he was dealing drugs. Police attempted to get him to talk, but Jaffe would not say a word. Eventually a SWAT team woke him up at his apartment at 8a.m. and took him to jail, still in his wheelchair (from the accident). At that point Jaffe knew he was in trouble – he had 13 felony counts, and this time he would not get off so easy.
Jaffe faced 18 years in prison. It took one week for him to make bail. He knew that even his lawyers could not prevent what was coming next. Awaiting his trial, Jaffe was placed into rehab to reduce his ultimate sentence. After being kicked out of one rehab and sent to another, he came out nearly nine months sober. Soon after, 25-year-old Jaffe was miraculously sentenced to one year in prison, leaving drug free at the end.
His criminal record made Jaffe push harder for self-liberation. He wanted to do anything he could to not get back to where he once was. He tried getting work, but his criminal record made it impossible. His only option for rebuilding his life was school. Luckily, one of the requirements for his major had changed, so Jaffe graduated from UCLA. Due to his poor academics during his early years, Jaffe could not pursue an advanced degree at UCLA. Therefore, Jaffe finished his masters in psychology at California State University Long Beach, graduating with a 4.0 GPA and reapplying to UCLA for his doctorate. UCLA ultimately accepted him and Jaffe graduated UCLA with a PhD in psychology.
With his degrees completed and drug abuse no longer weighing on him, life was different.
After his one year of prison and his journey to sobriety, he no longer found comfort in drugs and instead found another focus – school. Jaffe said that school gave him the purpose that was previously lacking in his life. Getting arrested and going to jail had also been a wake-up call.
As a former UCLA student, Jaffe has seen the drug use of students on campus and acknowledged that 18-25 is the age when drug experimentation is most common.
Aside from his part-time job as a UCLA, Dr. Jaffe spends his time running a treatment center in the Pico-Robertson area. He treats various types of addictions and has made it his life mission to help others.
“It feels like I have a weight on me. At the end of it, I sold a lot of drugs that made people’s lives substantially worse. To some extent, I feel like I’m paying it back, helping people get over their troubles.”
Dr. Jaffe notes that becoming an addict and even a drug dealer was a gradual process. Others can prevent themselves from falling into his situation by speaking to someone they trust, even before it seems like a real issue.
“There was a handful of people who offered to help, but I was too far down. I heard them and thought they were wrong.”
He further explains that friends and family need to offer support to those struggling not by stating the obvious issues but instead by mentioning resources available to help them. When Jaffe realized he was in real trouble, he was not aware of the resources that could have helped him.
Jaffe relates a common issue within the community: members of society often pretend not to see the problems right in front of them, making believe that they do not exist. There is so much shame around drug use that communities will not admit that it is a prevalent issue, fearing it might make them look bad. Addiction is an issue in so many cultures: Jews, Christians and Muslims struggle. To think that these issues define us as a community and thus ignore the matter leaves many without the support they so desperately need. Jaffe hopes this shame can be eradicated so that people can come out and seek help and find a place where it is okay to struggle without the fear of being judged.
“People need the courage to stand firm and be supportive to those people who are struggling.”
Individuals often need to break through to those who are struggling and build trust. We need to seem like we are helping the person in need instead of viewing them as a problem to solve. Society needs to pay attention, to be direct and to be supportive.