Addict is a dirty word. Images of junkies, crack heads, and drunks pop up in one’s head when it is said. But an addict is someone who abuses a substance beyond its recommended use, and since most drugs — except the prescription kind — are illegal, anyone who smokes marijuana or recreationally partakes of psilocybin mushroom is considered an addict.
I am an addict, or, at least, I’ve been called one. I use substances to escape; to fight bad feelings as well as feelings of boredom. I’m a functioning addict — meaning my life hasn’t gone to utter shit, I have a job that I’m pretty good at, I have money in the bank, and I maintain relationships. However, those relationships are typically with other addicts.
My college boyfriend was an alcoholic. His dad was an alcoholic who died from abusing the liquid for years. And he wasn’t the last boyfriend I had who drank too much.
I also dated someone who would drink too much and then take out all his rage on me. Someone who told me he loved me has punched me in the face. This same person has almost killed me twice. I’ve been strangled to unconsciousness. I’ve hidden in a locked bathroom with a butcher knife. I’ve gotten restraining orders in two states, and I’ve paid thousands of dollars to keep him away from me.
You would think I would never date someone like that again.
But it seems like many people in my generation have a problem with alcohol; using it to unwind only to get a DUI later. Drinking too much at a party or bar and vomiting, blacking out, and/or feeling the painful effects of a hangover the next day. I’ve seen credit card debt flourish from drinking alone when a cocktail is priced at a tenth of a weekly grocery budget.
The Opioid User
Prescription pills are not inherently bad when used under a doctor’s directions. The keyword being “prescription”, which seems to be lost on some people who want to self-medicate their physical or emotional pain as well as get a little high while poolside.
A man who was good to me, who I had more fun with than anyone else, who I saw a future with had a secret Norco habit. In my mid-twenties and living in Los Angeles, my boyfriend and I had our fair share of drug use. But when I asked him about a bag of 40 Vicodin I’d found hidden under his pajamas, his reaction surprised me. He had been taking one, two, or three a day every day without telling me.
Most people I’ve met have taken an oxy or perk once or five times in their life. Something leftover from a root canal, a couple stolen from someone’s medicine cabinet, or a handful from your mother that she doesn’t need anymore. The truth is, pain pills are more accessible than another soft or hard drug.
Weed doesn’t hurt anyone, right? It’s just a plant; a plant that can be transformed into butane hash oil. This concentrated sticky oil isn’t your hippie grandparents’ marijuana. Residual solvents and chemical contaminants can remain in this highly concentrated form of THC.
I was a stoner for many years and started to date a grower when I was living in California. Our three-year relationship was polyamorous if you included our girlfriend, MaryJane. We would wake-and-bake and continue to smoke intermittently throughout the day every day. I thought it made life easier to cope with when, in fact, it robbed me of my ambitions and processing skills. I wasn’t coping, I wasn’t even living.
While marijuana does have health benefits, most recreational users aren’t smoking/consuming the substance to help them eat during chemotherapy, manage pain, or minimize the effects of PTSD. The soft drug is legal in a few states and as easy to obtain as buying a pack of cigarettes at a pharmacy.
Because weed is a soft substance that users cannot overdose on, it’s often overlooked as something harmful. People also insist that it’s not addictive, but have you’ve watched a pothead go clean. While it may not have withdrawal symptoms as deadly as alcohol and pain pills, users still experience mood swings as they deal with daily life sober.
For me, the breaking point occurred following a lung test. I’d gotten hiking, or walking depending on who you ask, and couldn’t breathe. Senior citizens were actually passing me. I requested an asthma test when I returned home. Although I didn’t have asthma, the diagnostic test showed me that my lungs were 15 years older than my body. My harmless little habit was putting me into an early grave.
A Life of Moderation
Being single and in my mid-thirties now, I’ve decided to reclaim my physical and mental health. I’ve given up cigarettes and all forms of smoking; marijuana being the hardest thing I’ve had to let go. It’s only in this last week that I’ve started regulating my alcohol consumption, which took a wide upswing upon the reduction of THC entering my bloodstream.
My doctor told me, “No more smoking and no more than two drinks in a sitting and no more than seven drinks in a week.” This has been an incredible struggle for me. After years of use, going to bed sober is a foreign construct. How does one just go to sleep?
I’m not alone though. One of my close friends is also trying to get sober, giving up weed and tapering down her drinking. Social events are more than difficult. What did we do before we started drinking and doing drugs? Oh, yeah… Wish we were adults so we could do whatever we want.
Most people I know start adulthood with a bottle in their hand. Drinking is part of the college experience as much as student debt. Alcohol is the one substance that you actually have to explain to people why you are not consuming. “Are you pregnant?” No, Becky, I just don’t feel like leaving reality right now.
Marijuana is a close second. And, if you haven’t heard it by now, opioids are becoming a pandemic. I don’t even know what kids are into now in days. I still don’t understand what bath salts are. I don’t even like baths.
So why are we using these substances? Why didn’t drug use end with the hippie era and alcohol stop during prohibition? Why have the rates of addiction and substance-related death increased with each generation?
For me, since that is the only person I can confidently speak for, drug and alcohol use is a two-part experience. One, all the cool kids are doing it. Hollywood has glamourized substance abuse from Casablanca to HBO’s Euphoria. Sad, mad, post-breakup, writer’s block? Pick up a bottle or a joint, take a pill and unwind. Is that where “take a chill pill” came from?
Which leads me to the second reason… I don’t want to be here. For someone with depression, a mood disorder, a fucked-up past, an unhappy life or even just one they are not satisfied with as they watch “reality” television and social media portray an image they will never obtain, the ability to check out for an hour or more is a godsend.
The Road to Recovery
Electing to give up drugs and not make alcohol part of my daily life is not a switch. I didn’t start taking drugs and alcohol every day one particular evening; it was a series of good times that increased in frequency as the years progressed. Moving to California ramped both from weekend treats to common occurrences.
I didn’t start smoking weed until I was 19 years old. By 25, I was smoking every day and by 28, all day. I had my first drink and hangover in middle school, but it wasn’t until high school that I got shitfaced on three Smirnoff Ices.
In Los Angeles, I would have a couple of mimosas with brunch, a couple of wines after lunch, and several whiskey drinks in the evening with friends. As I got older and more introverted, I drank and smoke at home, no longer requiring the social permission of others to escape.
Since I’ve decided to really live life and not self-medicate out of it, I’ve almost completely quit all forms of smoking. It’s been 10 days since I’ve had a cigarette, weeks since I’ve smoked weed. I’ve switched from whiskey to red wine, and can now just enjoy one glass instead of seven.
I can’t go cold turkey, and I can’t say for sure that I will never smoke again. But for right now, tapering down my usage and focusing on my health is a promise I can keep. Exercising more reinforces the quitting mentality and a newly found lump on my breast (I have a mammogram appointment in a couple of weeks) has made me reconsider my toxic habits.
As for my dating life, I’ve had to tell those I enjoy spending time with “No, I can’t do [that] with you.” I can’t go to bars that allow smoking. I can’t hang out with stoners anymore. I can’t commit to getting shitfaced for the sake of getting shitfaced. I can’t be your friendly neighborhood party girl anymore.
I can’t remember the last time I was blackout drunk, and hopefully, I will never know that unknown experience again. I hope to never wake up from coughing, pass out with a bowl in my hand, or have a bloody nose from something I snorted. My wild days are behind me and I’m not sad about it. I’ve taken 33 years of life for granted, and I’d like to enjoy whatever time I have left.