My girlfriend tried cocaine at a party! She was drunk! Oh my God!

I really, really, really hate drug use. I just can't get over how she could experiment with cocaine.

Published August 27, 2007 10:06AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a crippling emotional distrust of people who do drugs or abuse alcohol. I'm sure many people judge others who do drugs, but I feel that when I hear someone has done drugs, even if it was in college, that I view them in a completely different light -- I now think of them as stupid, selfish or insecure. I feel like I have less judgment for people who smoked marijuana, but I still feel like I look down on them.

I'm a graduate student and I have never done drugs and I only drink socially. I have no desire to take drugs because a) I don't like losing control of my body and b) I don't think it adds anything to a person's character. However, I am in a new relationship with a woman at my school. Things have been going well and despite the fact she smoked pot in college, I feel like I can look past this and it hasn't really bothered me (especially because college was almost a decade ago for this woman). However, she recently dropped a bombshell over coffee: Last summer, at a party, she had tried cocaine. She didn't tell me this with any remorse; she was drunk and there was peer pressure and she wanted to find out exactly what it would be like to have done cocaine. She proceeded to describe what it was like and then mention, casually, that her boyfriend in college would do cocaine with his friends.

I was really, really shocked but couldn't say anything at the time. I've never seen anyone do cocaine or known anyone who did cocaine (at least, publicly). I've had trouble sleeping since then and can't really get it out of my mind. If she had done cocaine in college it would still be problematic, but last year? That's far too late for youthful indiscretion. The fact that she would so lightly fall to peer pressure while drunk makes me worry about what else she'd do while drunk. I consider cocaine to be on the pretty extreme end of the drug spectrum, with pot on the other. So, it also makes me worry that there are other stories with other drugs just waiting to come out. And this all adds up to make me doubt her and feel anxious and weird around her, probably because the fact that she did cocaine and has no remorse about it troubles me.

However, I fully realize that I am really uptight about this subject in general and that I judge people too harshly because of it. I don't know how the normal person would see this behavior. I really don't want to judge her or other people and I don't want to lose sleep over this. Is my thinking really far out of line or should I keep worrying?

Uptight Judgmental Grad Student

Dear Uptight Judgmental Grad Student,

Since you are an academic and thus acquainted with the importance of making careful distinctions, I would suggest making a careful distinction between having a powerful emotional response and forming a view based on that response.

It is apparent that you have a powerful emotional response to the subject of drugs and drug abuse.

But what can we really know about the world based on your emotional response to it?

All we can really know is that you really, really don't care for drugs and drug abusers. Of course, there are lots of things that are bad about drug use. But those things would be bad no matter how you felt about them. Death by overdose, for instance, is a bad thing, and drug addiction is a bad thing, and having accidents and doing stupid things while under the influence of drugs or alcohol are bad things.

I think we can all agree about that.

But for you, drug use seems to be in a special category of bad. It's extra bad.

That's OK. We all have pet peeves. Me, I have serious concern about the trustworthiness of people who commit wanton melisma. I don't think jail time is called for in all cases. I think community service would usually suffice. But still, I have a problem with it. I especially have a problem with improvised melisma in standards, and in "The Star Spangled Banner." I don't think I could really date anybody who would do that. It just seems like such a monumental lapse of judgment. But that's just me. I generally keep quiet about it.

Because these are things that we really, really, really hate, they are kind of private.

So you have a real conflict, don't you? You really, really hate drug use, and this woman you're seeing tried cocaine once.

Can't you just admit to her how crazy this makes you feel, without getting all uppity about it? Can't you admit it humbly? Believe me, your lack of drug use doesn't make you superior to anyone. It's just a choice you've made. It's a good thing. But it doesn't make you better than anyone else. It's just who you are.

Besides, she only used cocaine once. Sure, I can see how you might feel. If she had said she committed wanton melisma on "The Star Spangled Banner" even just once, I'd still have to ask: So, what's to stop her from doing it again?

So I get your point. But I'm hoping that if you could just humbly admit that drug use drives you nuts, and try to uncouple the being-driven-nuts part of it from the feeling-superior part of it, maybe you could relax a little bit.

And maybe she will be able to accept that.

Being an academic, you might also want to augment your emotional response to drug use with a look at some studies of how occasional drug use is correlated with later success in life, or with happiness, or with crime and the likelihood of doing time, or with longevity. Such studies wouldn't necessarily change the way you feel, nor should they. You don't have to change the way you feel. There's nothing wrong with the way you feel. You're passionate about this topic. That's OK.

But you're not necessarily right. The person who is right is not necessarily the person who feels the strongest.

I myself have not really done the research necessary to conclude what are the effects of casual drug use. I mean, I know its effect on you -- it drives you batty! But what are the effects as measured in terms of job performance, long-term happiness and so forth?

This 2001 study found that "casual drug users and those who do not use drugs are similar in their ability to secure employment and stay in the work force." While in no way condoning or endorsing casual drug use, it suggests that workplace policies should make distinctions between the two groups. That just seems like common sense.

This study also recommends that we differentiate between chronic drug users and occasional users.

There are probably many other studies that will point out the dangers of casual use. And from my own perspective I can say that a zero-use policy has great benefits in simplifying life. I mean, it's really a drag when you're stoned and your house catches on fire. So I generally like to keep my wits about me -- what wits I have, that is.

But it is also important to be accepting of who we are. I know people who really hate drug use. I also know people who like to do drugs and have no problem with it. It's their choice. It's not my choice.

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