Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: When friends do drugs

How do you cope when you're at a party with people taking drugs?
Photo / Thinkstock
How do you cope when you're at a party with people taking drugs? Photo / Thinkstock

I remember the day I saw my first line.

It was a party at a swish apartment in Paddington, the eastern suburb of Sydney. Midnight came around, and the party became a little quieter as small groups disappeared, only to return 15 minutes later - and a lot sprightlier than before. My friends, with whom I arrived, disappeared too. I went downstairs to search for them, finally finding a closed door with voices behind it.

I knocked, was let in, and there it was. A couple thousand dollars worth of cocaine spread out on the table. All provided by the host, to ensure his guests all had a good time. I declined the line offered to me, a move that was respected by my friends - which came as a surprise. "Where's that peer pressure they told us about in school?" I wondered.

Five years later, I've still never done drugs. I've seen them everywhere, though: at dinner parties in London, gay pride parades in Amsterdam, and only slightly out-of-sight in many Ponsonby bars. Like it or not, drugs are part of our generation, as they have been for the generations that came before us.

Several things amount when around friends with drugs:

Moral standing

Most 20-somethings would love to have the moral courage to say, "I won't be friends with those who do drugs", but in all honesty, we'd have few friends if we stuck by that ethos. Regular users such friends are not, but recreational, yes; whether usage be during a muddy festival, a weekend in a foreign city, or just a really, really big night out.
It's rather precious to leave a party simply because someone has gone behind a closed door to put something up their nose. Self-righteousness, too, presents itself when lecturing friends on what they should, or should not, do with their bodies (and minds). It's tolling to pour effort into being vocally cautious about drug taking, and Mother Goose-like finger-wagging comes across as condescending and sanctimonious. In accepting friends with drugs, you can't stay on a high horse. Being liberal doesn't mean participating. It means being tolerant.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure doesn't exist in the way they told us as teenagers. While different in every
circle, it's rarely as overt as, "Smoke this or you can't hang with us". Today, peer pressure comes in the form of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.

It's implicit, when you're around people on a different high than you, that you're not part of the group. It comes with an internal and self-imposed feeling of being left out; which, to anyone that struggled making friends at school, will be a sore spot. But in sticking to your morals, you realise your friends don't care which buzz you're on, as long as you're not killing the party. Do remember, while you're being open-minded about your friends, your friends are being open-minded about you, too.

A different high

In encountering friends with drugs, you do have to manage the difference in the aforementioned buzz. When your inebriation is alcoholic and theirs is something more, there's one key thing that'll set you apart: longevity. It's likely your wine/gin/vodka will wear off around 3am, whereas your friends, who'll have no concept of time, will want to keep going, and going, and going.

Based on observational experience, a hangover is a lot easier than a come-down. Go home early, and consider yourself lucky when you wake on a Sunday with only a headache - and they're still reeling on Wednesday.

Real friends vs. party friends

When it comes to "party friends" with drugs, it's important to realise these are your "good times" mates - those who are fun to laugh and dance with, but little more. Real friends will pick you up 4am if you call. They'll come to your family funerals. They'll meet you for coffee and make you feel loved. Party friends, on the contrary, you never see in daylight, or outside of a large, well-watered group. Some friends cross over into both groups, some stick strictly to their boxes. That's not a bad thing.

Personally, it matters little what my party friends put in their bodies, but I pay more care and attention to my real friends - and they to me. Real friends might still choose to pop a pill sometimes, but they know my stance on drugs, and respect it. Anything else and they wouldn't be quite as real.

Occasional or often?

I'm not endorsing drug use in any way. It's illegal. It damages lives, families, and society at large. But drug use happens. When it's "special weekends only" I can accept it, but when it's habit, it's dangerous. It can be difficult to know if a friend has a problem, and the line is fine in knowing when to intervene. The best way around this is being open with your friends, and talking about drugs. If a mate has a problem, self-realisation will go down a lot better than accusation.

Individual levels of comfort

Knowing your comfort zone is essential in managing friends with drugs. If you feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or like you'll loose control, leave the party. If you can't withstand the implicit pressure, leave the party. If the peer pressure gets explicit, leave the party.
And reconsider the friends.

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Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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