My 28-year-old girlfriend wants to do drugs -- just like I used to!

She has risk factors for addiction, but what's a little pot or cocaine between lovers?

Published May 31, 2007 10:22AM (EDT)

Dear Cary:

I am a guy with a colorful past. I was fairly innocent until 1984, when I tried pot, mushrooms and LSD, then cocaine, free-basing and some other stuff. I am not a great believer in gateway drugs, but am a firm believer in your continuum theory. These days, and for a long, long time, I have done no coke -- though I know friends who have done so for 20 years -- have never done H, and have relegated myself to a relatively mild wine habit and some joints. Recently, I met and fell in love with a younger woman -- 28 to my 42 -- who has expressed a strong interest in experimenting with pot, coke and I dunno what so she can "experience" or try these things.

Coke really fucked me up. I honestly could not deal with her if she ever decided to go up the hierarchy. She has a background that might lend itself to such a course, and it would tear me to pieces. I do smoke pot a few times a month, and consider it less of a mess than liquor, but don't want to "gateway" her to harder stuff by providing positive experiences with coke, etc. And I don't want to have her go for it on her own, and have positive experiences, either and learn the hard way, as I did after seeing people shoot each other on the street in a screaming mess. I know if I don't do something, she will do it on her own, and because of what she does now for a living, it is more likely that things will go completely fucked.

I want to pursue a course where she tries some pot and knows that the other things are lethal, and that I escaped by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. And the test isn't over yet -- cancer from the benzene in coke is still awaiting me, haunting me 20 years later.

How do I, at 42, talk my intelligent 28-year-old Russian girlfriend/fiancée into not fucking herself up? She thinks she knows it all and, like I was at the same age, doesn't want to think about the future.

Deeply Conflicted

Dear Deeply Conflicted,

The main thing you can tell her to lessen the risk of her addiction is this: Tell her that you will not supply her with drugs or do drugs with her, and that if she does drugs on her own the relationship is over.

That sounds harsh. I started out trying to figure it out along a continuum. I started out saying, just tell her you won't personally participate in her drug use. But look what happens when you try to identify the conditions under which you would end the relationship. Broadly speaking, you would end the relationship if she became a drug addict, right? But as we know drug addiction exists along a continuum. So would you break up with her if she did cocaine all night for three nights in a row and didn't call you and lied to you about the specifics? Would you break up with her if she stole money from you to buy coke -- even if she said she was just borrowing it? Would you break up with her if, over a period of three months, she did coke roughly twice a week? Would you break up with her if she tried heroin? Would it be OK if she snorted it once? What if she shot it, but just once? What would constitute addiction? What would it take for you to break up with someone you're in love with?

We're agreed there's no way you can stop another person from doing the drugs she wants to do -- in a theoretical, bottom-line sort of way, that is. But we're also agreed that there is a practical continuum of influence and opportunity along which it is possible to engineer events to lessen the risk. And the best way to eliminate the risk is to eliminate the drugs. In thinking it through, I just kept coming back to the same place.

The difficulty of creating a set of conditions along the continuum becomes apparent when you try it. Add to that the difficulty of being in love with her, and you see the difficulty! That is why life is so much simpler when you just say, No cocaine. None. No first drink. None. No heroin. None. If drugs and alcohol are a problem or a potential problem, life becomes infinitely simpler once they are eliminated completely.

You seem to hold on to the belief that she could perhaps experiment with drugs under your supervision and it would be a manageable thing. And yet twice you allude to her high-risk traits. You say, "She has a background that might lend itself to such a course," and you say, "because of what she does now for a living, it is more likely that things will go completely fucked."

That sounds bad. It sounds like love has clouded your thinking. Again, I feel for you. Love clouds our thinking. That is what I am here for -- to be the coldhearted bastard of sheer survival!

So let's say this: Knowing what you do about her propensity for addiction and her lifestyle, if you give her drugs or participate with her in drug taking, and if the drug gets ahold of her, she's off and running, and if you gave her the drugs, it's your fault.

So there is no way, knowing what you do, that you can do drugs with her or condone her drug use. No way. You are so vulnerable to claims of liability right from the start! So you really do have to refuse to do drugs with her, and tell her that if she does drugs on her own, the relationship is over.

Hard as it is, you have to become willing to walk away from this relationship now. You have to get yourself into that state of mind. You have to prepare. Because if she wants to do these drugs, and she has multiple high-risk factors for drug abuse, it's likely that she's going to do more than she can handle and get in over her head and make some bad decisions and you are going to lose her anyway; either you walk away under your own power at the first sign of trouble, or you crawl out from the wreckage at the bitter end.

The ability to walk away gives you some limited power in this early stage. You can now spell out your conditions to her. You can say that you will not supply her with drugs or do drugs with her but you realize you can't stop her from experimenting -- except that if she does experiment, you're gone.

Maybe, if you said that, she would say, OK, this relationship is too important to me.

There is simply no way to guarantee that someone who has high-risk factors for drug abuse will not spin out of control. Gateway theory or not: You cannot know who will respond in that particular addictive way.

So it is better to keep addictive drugs out of the system entirely. That is my boring, middle-aged, risk-averse view, one that thrill-seeking 28-year-old women may not be interested in hearing, but one that a 42-year-old man who has seen the same stuff I have seen may have some sympathy with.

I'm on your side, pal. I'm just saying save yourself the grief and the agony. Spell it out for her and stick to it.

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