Further Reading

Living with the enemy: I shouldn't mind living with a drug abuser, should I?

Dear Stanton,

Addiction is a topic that has plagued me for quite some time. My father was an addict, and if the old adage about addictive personalities holds true, you never saw such a fine example. Well, perhaps you have, seeing how it's your business to record such things. Anyhow, I remember, at a very early age, my mom attempting to drink a beer in front of me (she's such a lightweight; three beers puts her under the table) just to relax. I went into hysterics, claiming that she would be an alcoholic, and ran from the room. I was six years old. As you can see, my father's actions must have had a serious impact on me even then.

My first relationship was with a guy who hated cocaine (my father's drug of choice), and who very rarely drank, so I thought I had it made. All he did was smoke a little pot, and I figured, hey, everyone has to relax sometimes, right? Besides, it's not physically addictive, so what's the big deal? Well, to make a long story short, he ended up lying to me, taking my car, taking money from me... all the things that my father had done to my mother. Plus, he smoked a HELL of a lot more pot than I had thought in the beginning of our relationship. So I came to the conclusion that it's not the drug you are addicted to, it's the mentality behind the addiction.

Two years later, I dumped him.

My current boyfriend also smokes weed, but he makes no effort to conceal his addiction from me; he thinks that because he doesn't smoke it every day, he is better off than his friends. In actuality, he's a 'binge' smoker, like bulemics but instead of food, the object at hand is weed. He will go for days, even weeks without it, but when he gets his hands on some, he'll smoke four, five, six times daily. This is especially hard for me, because I will get used to him being sweet and considerate, intellectually stimulating and active, but when he gets stoned, all of the sudden he's self-centered, lethargic, and just kind of stupid. It takes all my willpower to deal with this Jekyll/Hyde syndrome, coupled with the fact that his way of dealing with my being put off by his behavioral changes is to light another bowl.

I love this man with all my heart, but I am firmly convinced I am going to have to find a way to accept his behavior, because I know he will probably never change.

I was hoping you could help me with that.

In moments like this, which come more and more frequently now, I curse my father's name. I haven't spoken with him in five years, at his request. He tells my grandparents not to reveal where he lives, because he's afraid I'll alert the police. (He has a bench warrant out on him, due to huge amounts of unpaid child support.) Who knows, maybe I would. I blame him for making me so unaccepting, so rigid when it comes to dealing with addictions of any kind. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't really want to talk with him about anything personal to me. My grandparents say he's been clean for years, but that's a load of crap. One of the guys I know (he deals coke, crystal, and the like) was selling to him frequently until he got locked up. The guy, not my dad.

Unfortunately, addiction, especially in my environment, is the rule. I'm the exception. I am twenty-two years old, and I don't know but one other person in my peer group (who hasn't gone through AA/NA) that doesn't habitually use something. Only ONE other person. And I know quite a few kids. Preps, skaters, rednecks, ghetto kids, parents, whatever. You name the category, I'll give you their addiction. This isn't recreational. This is a way of life. The owners and managers of the restaurant that I work at sit down at the back booth with some employees every night and do lines, for chrissake! I've gotten pretty cynical about it now. Except when it comes to the people I love.I guess I need therapy, but getting this off my chest helps for now.

If you have any suggestions, please... help.

I love my boyfriend, and if he asked me to marry him tomorrow, I would. We just had our three year anniversary. As I type this, he is outside with a couple of girls from work, whom he hates, I might add, taking bong hits. Addiction makes some strange bedfellows.

Thank you.

Sara


Sara:

Let me say what I view to be true of the world. Most people use psychoactive substances (especially when you add in alcohol and antidepressants, let alone cigarettes and coffee). And there is much more dependence on substances than drug warriors recognize, since they tend not to count the drugs they favor or that are most popular among those they know.

On the other hand, illicit drug use in the United States is not particularly widespread once you get beyond college age (certainly nothing to compare with use of the four substances I listed in the previous paragraph). So something strikes me as odd in your saying "I am twenty-two years old, and I don't know but one other person in my peer group (who hasn't gone through AA/NA) that doesn't habitually use something. Only ONE other person." This is not an accurate representation of the world at large.

Partly the issue is your age. Excessive use of alcohol, along with illicit drug use, declines steadily as people mature. There are many ways to show this, but let me just list one -- according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's national survey of drinking by Americans, conducted by the Alcohol Research Group in Berkeley, here are the percentage of people who were alcohol dependent (DSM-IV) in each age group:

Alcohol Dependence by Age Among Americans (1995)
Age %
18-29 9%
30-29 5%
40-49 4%
50-59 2%
60+ 0%

Having said that, I do think you are hanging around in especially drug-using circles, and dating men with greater than average drug involvement. So I wonder where you spend your free time, and with whom.

This brings me to how your and my world views and experiences diverge. You recognize that, since your father was an addict, you are especially sensitive to drug use of any sort. You translate this into meaning that you need to accept the drug use of your boyfriends, which, by your description, is unhealthy, excessive, and, yes, aberrant. You believe your current boyfriend won't change, and so you want to learn to accept his binge marijuana use.

I'm not going to advise you how to learn to accept this ("This is especially hard for me, because I will get used to him being sweet and considerate, intellectually stimulating and active, but when he gets stoned, all of the sudden he's self-centered, lethargic, and just kind of stupid. It takes all my willpower to deal with this Jekyll/Hyde syndrome, coupled with the fact that his way of dealing with my being put off by his behavioral changes is to light another bowl.") If I worked for you to accept this in your life at 22, I'd lose respect for myself! Instead, I'm going to tell you that I could never permanently be with someone whose substance use I thought was unhealthy, excessive, and escapist.. Drug use is such a fundamental element in people's approach to life that I could never ignore something this basic of which I disapproved.

At the same time, when I was your age and slightly older, I dated one woman who smoked cigarettes and another who was a pot head. Both ceased this drug use (or at least constant drug use), partly due to my disapproval. Both of them had fathers who used substances excessively. Both these women went on to be highly successful professionals.

What is my point? I don't accept the limitations on your lifestyle and your life that you depict. I don't believe you need to hang out with people all of whom use (or depend on) illicit drugs. I don't believe you need to love only men whose drug use you find distasteful and which depreciates your existence. I do believe that you (and perhaps many of your friends) have plenty of time to outgrow these habits.

I agree that it is foolish and unrealistic to reject all drug users, even all unhealthy drug users (then William Bennett, a smoker, could never have become drug czar!). But living with one is a bit more of a burden than you and I need to endure, because of our sensitive natures.

Write me in a few months or years and let me know your views on what I have said.

Yours truly,
Stanton