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How (Not) To Address Rookie Drug Use
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Forty-Four
by Brian S. Wise
5 December 2003Cigarettes

If you care for someone, how are you supposed to handle the news they've used drugs for the first time?


Last weekend, someone important to me came here and, within five minutes, admitted to using drugs for the first time, the night before.  Of more concern, the experience didn’t turn out to be a particularly negative or regretful one.  Now the question is, What is someone who cares supposed to do with that sort of information?

It may be instructive for the reader to know that for almost half of my life I have started and ended every day with the (very nearly) overwhelming urge to be intoxicated.  Friends (I have always managed very successfully to shelter family, though with some effort) watched my teenage descent into something near alcoholism, and have stood by patiently as the problem has ebbed and flowed over subsequent years.  There are times, stretches of weeks and sometimes months, where sobriety must win and does, thanks to various combinations of caffeine, writing, binge eating of very bad food, large doses of over-the-counter pain relievers, sleeping pills and sex; I lovingly refer to these times as “detox” and suffer the physical stresses because when circumstances warrant being sober, one must be sober.

Otherwise, well, I am consuming alcohol, much more than even those closest to me these days realize, a balancing act I’ve managed with equal amounts of stealth and deception, as to not worry anyone.  (And no, I have never written while drunk, though it may sometimes seem that way.)  Having never entered into counseling or seen a physician for the problem, choosing instead to handle the thing myself, I cannot say with any degree of certainty whether I suffer from alcoholism or am just a garden variety drunk, only that to not drink is a much larger task than it sounds.

So honesty dictates I begin to answer the question by saying: Certainly I cannot compare one instance of drug use to my continuing struggle, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach upon hearing the news allowed me to suffer firsthand the pain many of the (sober) women in my life must have felt for all these years, a helpful experience.  If anyone who cares for you has witnessed (and been distressed by) your addictions (a generic term used here to illustrate the example), it’s pointless to say usage meets a certain intellectual standard so long as no one is being hurt … in that, users are so preoccupied with physical pain (e.g., through drunk driving accidents where innocents are harmed) we tend to forget that emotional pain exists.  That forgetfulness is especially selective and useful because it allows us to choose the substances we prefer to anyone else’s hopes for our well being.

But even I have written that free will in the first place trumps every other consideration; in other words, one should be smart enough to know why he’s doing what he’s doing before he does it, and whether what he wants to do is the smart thing.  In my case, I drank for the first time, and continued to drink later on, because I wanted some emotional pain to go away; what was important wasn’t that there were better ways to deal with the pain (dare I say it, intellectual ways), only that drinking was the shortest, straightest line between the beginning of my pain and its temporary end.  This is what worries me now: Escapism, what this person wanted to escape from and whether there will come a day when escapism ever crosses the line and becomes not caring anymore.  Of course, none of this occurred to me at the time.  I managed only to say, “Hey, I’m not your [spouse], do whatever you want,” which belied my concern. 

No doubt my worry translates into open hypocrisy.  To have spent so much time discounting the concern of others (as to my on-again / off-again condition), only then to be so bothered by one instance of drug use, really is just as bad as it sounds.  The best way I can think to explain it is to say that those alert enough to know they suffer demons are also aware enough to know that suffering demons is not a wise lifestyle choice, therefore whatever they can do to discourage others seems like the right thing, despite the obvious hypocrisy.  And even though the odds are overwhelmingly against my acquaintance ever becoming addicted, the very idea of their being as miserable as I sometimes am becomes motivation enough to say, “Please, never again, because you’re worth my saying please.”

Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.

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