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Relationships, confidentiality & telling others

NOTE: Quotes are presented word for word apart from minor editing for readability and clarity. Identifying details have been removed. Square brackets show text that has been added, e.g. ‘I want to maintain [my current level of consumption]’. Ellipses within square brackets […] show where text has been removed, e.g. ‘Counselling was good but […] I would have liked more information about other treatment options’.

The people interviewed for this website talk about how consuming alcohol or other drugs affects their relationships with family, friends and partners. They describe how it can contribute to, or sometimes disrupt, these relationships. A key concern for many is deciding whether to tell others about their drug use. Several people say that stigma associated with addiction and drug use influences whether or not they tell others (see also Dealing with stigma & discrimination; Work, study & making ends meet). They say they’re concerned that if they disclose they will be ‘looked down upon’ or marginalised. Those who have told others describe their reasons for doing so and any changes in consumption it produced. Some say their family and friends express concern when they think their alcohol or other drug use is creating problems, and suggest they seek treatment, cut down or stop altogether (see also Changing patterns of consumption). Concern expressed by loved ones, in some cases, introduced or confirmed the idea that they had an issue (see also Identifying or being diagnosed).

Many of those interviewed also talk about how their consumption enhances their social lives by creating a sense of fellowship and increasing their enjoyment of social activities (see also Consumption in everyday life). While the role of consumption in their social lives is something many say they value, some find that taking their preferred drug(s) in social contexts has led to heavy use or other patterns they see as concerning, prompting them to change social circles in an effort to cut down, stop or otherwise make a change (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

Although some say alcohol or other drug use can contribute to their relationships, others identify it as a source of relationship difficulties, which can cause disagreements or conflict with family or friends. Related to this, the possible effects of their consumption on their children is a concern for some. Others explain how taking their preferred drug(s) helps them to cope with the pressures of parenting, relationship problems, social isolation, or grief (see also Consumption in everyday life). A few have lost custody of their children due to their contact with the criminal justice system for offences they see as alcohol or other drug-related (see also Contact with the criminal justice system). They all say they found the experience traumatic and took steps to regain custody of their children, often by seeking treatment.

Read on to find out more about how consumption shapes relationships and experiences of telling others or keeping it confidential.

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Telling family, friends & intimate partners

Being open about their consumption with their partner, family and friends is important to many, while others choose to keep it confidential. Telling others helped some to strengthen their relationships, build trust and establish a support network. However, others say they have encountered negative attitudes and, in some cases, these experiences prompted them to avoid taking their preferred drug(s) in the presence of certain family and friends, and discouraged them from talking about it (see also Dealing with stigma & discrimination).

When Anika’s (F, 19, studying, cannabis) parents became aware of her cannabis use, they asked if she needed counselling. (Played by an actor)

[Once my dad found out I was smoking weed] I think [he and my mum] just had to sit me down and go, ‘Do you do this?’ […] and I fully just had to say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m pretty addicted’. And he actually asked me, ‘Do you need to see a counsellor or do you need to get help?’ And that was actually quite nice for my parents to, like, support me and ask if I needed help, but I just said, ‘No, look I’m fine. I’m a good kid. Like, I haven’t done anything wrong’. And I think they just believed me. But yeah, I think my parents were the first ones to sit me down and go […] ‘Is there something wrong with you?’

Scarlett (F, 29, works in finance, ice) says that being open with her partner about her ice consumption improved their relationship. (Played by an actor)

Being honest with your partner [about your drug use] works the best. I found our relationship improved a lot because I wouldn’t hide things from him. When I first […] injected drugs, I didn’t tell him. He found out that same day because he knows me too well. He picked it up straight away […] I wasn’t in a good state […] So he asked me, ‘Have you shot up this weekend?’ And I straight away just said, ‘Yes’ […] He’s someone who I know I can trust. And we get along really well. As in, with or without [ice] he’s still the best person ever. So that’s good to know and that’s come from a lot of learning. As in, he’s stuck around for me when I’ve been at my worst. And I have supported him along the way as well, when he has gone through his low times.

Pauline’s (F, 51, works in administration, cannabis) ex-partner was ‘very judgmental’ about her cannabis use, which made her feel she had to hide it. (Played by an actor)

I came out of a relationship [a few years ago…] with another woman who was very judgmental about my pot [use]. I guess I played it down a bit at first, but it was a real problem in the relationship […] Somehow in that time I was with her, I was aware that […] my pot use changed. So if I was at home before her from work, which was quite common […] I’d have one [joint and then] I would start thinking things like, ‘Do I quickly have time to rush and have that second one before she gets home?’ You know, like, hiding it. And even when I’d have those thoughts, my intellect was horrified. You know, I didn’t want to be that sort of person, but it did [push] me a bit down that path. And it’s really only now that I’m living alone […] that I can just have it in the middle of my lounge room if I want to. But I still feel I have to […] keep it hidden.

Telling loved ones when they’re experiencing issues has helped some to cut down, stop or otherwise manage their consumption (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

Jenna (F, 31, studying, cannabis) discusses her cannabis consumption with select friends as a way of ‘reflecting on’ and managing it.

I guess there are some friends who I talk about it with. Sometimes there are particular friends I talk with, because with them I can reflect on my use and in doing that, think about whether I’m at a place with it where I want to be […] When I’m talking to them about it, because I think I’m smoking too much, then [I’ll talk…] about how it’s affecting me and what I want to be doing, whether I want to be smoking less or, you know [otherwise varying it].

A few say that being open about their own consumption can help others avoid the issues they have encountered. Confiding in loved ones can, however, also impose on them a burden of discretion.

According to Phoenix (M, 48, works in the media, alcohol and prescription painkillers), being open about his drug use with his children helps them avoid the issues he has experienced.

I’ve been very honest with my kids, all five of them, with the drug use from the time they were big enough to understand you are not allowed to talk about it at school [I have been] very, very honest. Consequently, I believe anyway, that’s why none of my children are into drugs […] They look at me when I get messed up and they don’t want that for themselves. And yeah, well, I didn’t want it for myself either, but I didn’t have the benefit of someone pointing out, ‘This is what happens’. Yeah, no I never [had it] explained it to me in those sort of terms. As far as it goes, I [give myself a] pat on the back for that because the kids are not drug users, not alcoholics.

The people interviewed give a range of reasons for choosing not to tell family and friends about their consumption. These include not wanting to cause worry or anxiety, feeling embarrassed or ashamed, and being concerned that they will be judged or stigmatised (see also Dealing with stigma & discrimination). Some talk about it only with select family members, their partner or a few trusted friends. A few say they avoid telling their children because they think it may encourage them to try alcohol and other drugs, or because they’re concerned about being a ‘bad role model’.

Lucy (F, 34, works in retail, cannabis) avoids telling some of her friends that she smokes cannabis because she thinks they will judge her. (Played by an actor)

I kind of have two sets of friends: ones who have been there and done all that, and they are way past [drug use] and the others who still like to have a smoke. I tend to hang out with them more to be honest because I know they’re still on my level. And they’re not judging me for it […] But then there’s the other friends who are the more judgmental types, who I would try and keep [my marijuana use] from […] I’m not going to go to great lengths to hide it. But if I tell them, I know that they’re, like, judging me for it.

Brad (M, 50, unemployed, speed) is concerned that he will be marginalised if others become aware of his drug use, but says not telling others affects his intimate relationships.

I don’t know about everyone, but in my case […] there’s always a secret, you know. If you come out and you are very open about [your drug use] you are marginalised completely […] I mean people will talk anyway and assume things anyway and that’s fine, that’s their thing. So that, to me, is probably the main drawback [of drug use…] And if you’re in relationships, like, you know, intimate relationships, they need to be based on trust. The whole point of the thing is to be open. To open yourself [up] and that’s always a very interesting thing to try and negotiate […] You make mistakes. You know, things stuff up. You know there’s that thing of hubris, false self-confidence, that you think you can control everything and then you find out that you’ve just been kidding yourself. That’s one of those things that’s very easy to do […] but it’s kind of heightened with speed if you are using it all the time […] It just introduces an element which probably makes [intimate relationships] a lot harder, so […] in my case, I tend to avoid situations like that, or not to avoid, but be very wary […of] intimate relationships.

Matthew (M, 49, not working due to illness, cannabis) doesn’t discuss his cannabis consumption with his children because he doesn’t want to be a ‘bad role model’.

No [my children] haven’t brought it up and I don’t want to bring it up really. Just try to make sure that they don’t see [me smoking] or know about it […] When they come over, nothing’s around […because] I don’t want to be a bad role model. I would hate for them to start smoking, thinking, ‘It’s okay because Dad did it’. Because in the long run, it’s not a good thing to do. But you don’t realise that until you’ve done it all your life obviously, because now I’ve got [health issues] which are partly [related to cannabis use] and partly other things.

Discussing their consumption with others is seen by some to imply that they have a problem and since they don’t see their consumption as an issue, they don’t need to raise it. As Angelo (M, 35, works in the construction industry, alcohol) puts it, ‘I guess [I didn’t discuss my drinking] because I always kind of felt I had it under control, and I didn’t want to kind of identify myself with having an issue’. Scott (M, 25, studying and working in hospitality, alcohol) makes a similar point: ‘It’s not that I kept it to myself. Like, my friends probably knew that I was drinking heaps but, I don’t know, I’m still young, I guess, and people don’t see it as a problem as much’.

A few say they haven’t told their family because they aren’t close to them, or because alcohol and other drug use isn’t a topic of discussion in their family. In some cases, people chose not to disclose but their families became aware of their consumption when it began to affect other parts of their life, or when they decided to seek treatment.

After Dean’s (M, 35, works in hospitality, ice) family became aware that he was taking ice, he was able to talk ‘freely and openly’ with them. (Played by an actor)

It all sort of came to a head when […] I went to rehab. So it all came out with my family and everything was all out in the open, which was probably one of the best things that did happen, because it slowed me down a lot. I can talk about it quite freely and openly with my family, which is good […] Mum sort of just […] said ‘Look, there’s nothing I can do for you unless you want to help yourself’, which is hard. It’s very hard but at the same time, she wouldn’t have had the strength to do that had she not gone to this workshop for people who have family members with drug issues, which my rehab put her onto, so I’m thankful for that.

George (M, 58, not working due to illness, alcohol) didn’t feel he could raise his concerns about his drinking because his parents’ drinking was never discussed in the family.

When I was a teenager still, my mother used to drink heavily. She would drink whiskey and wine and she’d cry and […] I was there [as] a teenager, with my mother weeping just night after night […] And that was one of the things that really repelled me about alcohol. And my father was chronically addicted. I think he used to drink during the day too and he’d drink pure spirit. And it was never discussed. He was obviously blind drunk and my mother just pretended it wasn’t happening [So I didn’t want to discuss my experience because there was a silence about it in my family…] I mean, I could never have told my mother that my father was alcoholic. She wouldn’t hear it. She’d just change the subject.

Some explain how the decision to keep it confidential affects their patterns of consumption and their relationships. Decisions not to disclose alcohol and other drug use caused issues for some when loved ones later became aware of it.

Scarlett (F, 29, works in finance, ice) hasn’t disclosed her ice use to her family so she avoids seeing them when she’s taken it. (Played by an actor)

If there’s something on [at my family’s house, then my partner and I…] aim to avoid being high. Although sometimes that hasn’t been the case and so I’ve tried to avoid family situations […] We don’t end up going to see my mum and dad because I wouldn’t dare. They don’t know anything about this […] I was just brought up from a very young age not to touch drugs […] and I always had to uphold the image that my parents expected of me […] So they see me when I want to be seen, which is the ‘good me’ […] As in, I haven’t been using ice at all […I don’t want my family to know] because otherwise I’ll feel like such a failure […And that’s because of] the expectations that my family have.

Ben (M, 29, works in hospitality, alcohol) says that not telling his partner about his drinking caused relationship issues.

Well, I was a closet drinker, really. I was hiding it from my partner […] I hid a lot from her. Hiding bottles around the house, in the shed, wherever I could, in the car. Yeah, I’d sit down and we’d have a drink every now and then, but I was already drunk and that sort of caused a lot of fights between us. And then she started finding grog lying around everywhere. A lot of trust was lost and we had a shaky relationship for a few years.

[…]

I have [spoken about my drinking] a little bit with my mum and dad. Yeah, I think it was just because mum was clicking, and because me and my partner were having troubles […] Yeah [my mum] sort of got more involved and, well, it just got to that point of her pushing me into my first rehab and paying for it, thank goodness.

Consumption in relationships

Consumption is seen by many of our participants as an important part of their social lives that can increase their enjoyment of social and leisure activities. As Dawn (F, 38, works in manufacturing, alcohol) explains, ‘I’d always drink with my cousins […] We’d do our thing during the week and then get together on weekends and just catch up [over a drink]’. Some say that taking their preferred drug(s) with others creates a sense of belonging and fellowship that they value. A few of those who take ice, GHB, MDMA or cannabis with partners say it fosters intimacy and sexual connections (see also Consumption in everyday life).

Ted (M, 26, works in the arts, party drugs and cannabis) usually takes drugs with friends but he and his friends also enjoy leisure activities which don’t involve drugs. (Played by an actor)

Pretty much everyone in my group of friends here is a drug user, so most of what we do […] in a social situation involves using drugs. But having said that, some of them are also my gym partners so it’s not like that’s all we do. You know, we also have coffee […] or go for brunch. But I mean, there’s pretty much an assumption that if it’s a social event that we’re all going to, there’s going to be some level of drug taking involved.

For Brad (M, 50, unemployed, speed) taking speed with friends promotes a sense of togetherness, or as he puts it, ‘communion’.

I value the people, you know, my closest friends […] We have shared interests in all sorts of ways, one of them being, you know, that kind of communion [of taking speed together]. You know, you can call it ‘community’ in some ways. There’s that old joke that [speed] breaks down all kinds of barriers. If you’ve got a shared interest in that, you can sit around talking […] With a lot of people I know that do it, I’ve known for years, decades. You know, they are still my friends, my closest friends, who I’ve probably known for 30 years, and we’ve done it on and off together and I’m still in touch with them. So I value that [social…] side of it […] Listening [to each other is] a big part of it. I mean, it’s weird that there’s a whole thing about talking [on speed]. You know, the standard speed freak thing. But you know, there’s also that thing of listening.

[Taking speed] is a very social activity. It’s like sitting around having coffees and talking […] Sometimes you seem to have a better handle on your own feelings and expressing them to someone else. And, you know, that’s happened recently. And that’s good in my book. And that’s always been a part of it.

While many say they value the role of consumption in their social lives, some add that consuming with others can lead to heavy or ‘problematic’ patterns of consumption. Rachel (F, 50, works in the health sector, heroin), for example, explains how her consumption ‘escalated’ when she began taking heroin regularly with a friend: ‘I found out that [my friend] was using a huge amount […] and I started using with her as well. Like, you know, these things escalate […] It seemed like it was all around me’. Heavy or frequent consumption in social contexts was a source of concern for some, and one that prompted them to change social circles in an effort to cut down, stop or otherwise change their consumption (see also Changing patterns of consumption). Other say their consumption led to conflict with loved ones. A few talk about the issues they experienced with an intimate partner, which they see as related to their consumption. In some cases they were unable to resolve the issues and this led to a relationship breakup.

After smoking cannabis, Anika (F, 19, studying, cannabis) sometimes experiences sudden changes in mood, which can cause issues with her partner. (Played by an actor)

[My partner] tells me sometimes that […] when I smoke weed I get very angry and then all of a sudden I get all lovey dovey and happy. And then he does something, like a little thing, and I just shoot off and go mental […] I mean, normally yes, I can get very angry but when weed comes into the picture, I take it too seriously. And, you know, I think anger management problems start to come in […] and that freaks me out when I hurt people […] Like, the last person I want to get angry at is the person I’m in love with, and I can scare him so much. I can even get physical sometimes and weed does not help. Like, when we’re in a confined space, you just want to breathe. And that’s why I say, getting outside is probably the best thing, or sleeping on it.

According to Angelo (M, 35, works in the construction industry, alcohol), his drinking caused issues with his partner and they eventually broke up.

I’ve just recently been separated from my girlfriend […] We were together for five years and she wasn’t a drinker at all. She was from, like, a very strict […] background so drinking was definitely not allowed in her family. And she tolerated my drinking. She didn’t mind it but then she started to notice that I was drinking in excess a bit too often. And because she didn’t like that, then I would rebel against it, so we split up about a year ago. And since then, you know, because I loved her and she was everything to me, I realised that I’ve had enough time to reflect on everything, and realise that I did have an issue [Since then…] I wouldn’t say I’ve stopped drinking but I’ve definitely cut down a hell of a lot [from] what I used to.

Dealing with relationship issues & social isolation

Consumption helped some to cope with relationship difficulties, social isolation, or the death of a loved one (see also Consumption in everyday life). A few of those who consume alcohol, cannabis, heroin, ice, speed, or over-the-counter or prescription drugs describe the role of consumption in their lives in these terms.

Opal (M, 45, not working due to illness, alcohol and prescription painkillers) explains that drinking and taking prescription painkillers helped him to deal with his partner’s mental health issues.

I think [the alcohol and prescription painkiller use] really became a major issue when I had a lot of problems with my partner, the mother of my children. She had a lot of mental issues going on. A lot of mental illness there and it really became the only way that I could cope with […] the conspiracies and the paranoia that she had. Every day when I’d come home, the only way I could deal with it was to, like, drink and take codeine to […] like, knock myself out. Knock part of my emotions out so I didn’t have to deal with it. And it would just go over the top of my head, and I could ignore it a lot easier [rather] than having to try and deal with whatever was going on [on] any given day, because it was hell on earth trying to live with it […] I suppose […] my way to escape was to go and get drunk. And, you know, it took a long time for me to really realise that I think I was really suffering with major anxiety and depression due to the relationship with her.

As a widower who lives on his own, George (M, 58, not working due to illness, alcohol) says that drinking helps him cope with social isolation.

[The alcohol habit] is a daily ritual, mostly created by my isolation. And so […] when six o’clock comes, I just get this feeling, like I’ve got to go to the bottle shop […] I’ll spend the whole day saying, ‘I’m not going to drink tonight’, but come six o’clock and the sun is going down, I think, ‘What am I going to do tonight? I don’t watch TV. There is only so much radio you can listen to, so many drawings you can do. What am I going to do?’ And the next minute, I’m getting together seven bucks to buy a cheap bottle [of wine].

Parenting & children

Among those with children, some express concern about the possible effects of their consumption on their children. Concern for their children’s well-being prompted several to seek treatment, cut down or stop altogether. As Melanie (F, 29, unemployed, ice) explains, ‘[I’m seeking treatment because] I want to put that part of my life behind me […] My kids deserve a better mum. They deserve a healthy mum and dad. They deserve a better life’.

Others reflect on their experiences of parenting and how it can shape patterns of consumption. For example, some say their consumption increased when they were coping with the pressures of being a parent. As Dawn (F, 38, works in manufacturing, alcohol) explains, ‘I guess I really did start to drink more after I became a mum. I had more stress then once I did become a mum and I did use [drinking] to relieve anxiety’. Emma (F, 42, works in retail, alcohol) makes a similar point, connecting her alcohol and codeine ‘addictions’ to her anxiety about being a mother:

[I had to] really understand what my fears [were…] to get rid of all my addictions […] I was really fearful of being a mum […] I just didn’t know how to do it. I was anxious. If I even heard [my child’s] voice, my heart would stop, so I was really not coping with being a mum.

Bill (M, 43, works in retail, alcohol) was concerned that his drinking was affecting his children but found it hard to stop altogether.

At this stage too, I’ve got two children so, you know, they really need a father that […] can give his all for them and not even have any of these times where you’re blacked out [from heavy drinking]. And not only that. As well, it’s sort of like, what sort of role model do you want to be to your children? You know, do you want them to see you […] smashed and drinking all the time to dangerous limits, when you’re thinking, ‘I don’t want to see them do this when I get older’. You’re thinking that even while you’re drinking […] So I have all these thoughts, but I still couldn’t take that final step to just go, ‘No, I’m not doing it, I’m not doing it’.

Child custody

Several people interviewed have lost custody of their children due to their contact with the criminal justice system for offences considered alcohol or other drug-related (See also Contact with the criminal justice system). They all say they found the experience traumatic and took steps to regain custody of their children, often by seeking drug treatment.

When Melanie (F, 26, primary carer for her children, ice) lost custody of her children, she began to think her drug use was no longer manageable and had become ‘problematic’. (Played by an actor)

I thought I had [my ice use] all under control. And the majority of the time I’d just stay awake until I had to do what needed to be done. Like, take the kids to school and stuff like that, and then rest while they were at school […] But yeah, it wasn’t manageable […I realised that] when my kids were taken off me.

[…So yeah, I’d been taking ice on and off] since I was 22 […] but I guess it became problematic within the last year […] After my kids were taken, I […] pretty much lost it. And that’s when I started using pretty much every day for about two weeks. Me and my partner were fighting a lot because we were blaming each other. And then yeah, after, like, two weeks of just abusing the drugs […] we realised that we did have to do something about it.

When Kate (F, 36, works in the health sector, prescription drugs and ice) was arrested for a driving offence, her child was removed from her care so she sought drug treatment to help her regain custody.

[I was arrested for a driving offence] and then, yeah, a week after withdrawing [from heroin] and actually nearly receiving a sentence in jail I received the notification from [the court] or something that my [child] had been removed. And [then later Community Services] came in and said, ‘He doesn’t speak.’ Well, yeah, you’ve just taken him away from everything he knows and he’s only just starting to use his words. Of course he’s not speaking. He’s shut down. You are traumatising him […] So I sort of had a bit of a think about [it] and got in touch with the rehab […] and went on a waiting list to go on a program that I could take my [child] into as well [as a step towards regaining custody].

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