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work, study, drug use, everyday life with an addiction, dependence or drug habit, consumption everyday life, drug use, relationships

Work, study & making ends meet

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’.

Most of the people interviewed for this website currently work or have worked in the past. Among them, there is great diversity in the jobs and industries they have worked in. Many have also undertaken post-secondary or tertiary study. Here they describe how they combine alcohol and other drug consumption with their work and study commitments. They also talk about how they manage their money to afford alcohol and other drug consumption while supporting themselves and their families.

Some explain that drug use helps them to perform at work, while others say it hinders their work so they prefer to limit it to after hours. In some cases the use of alcohol and some illicit drugs at work is said to be accepted in their workplace. Others say illicit drug consumption is stigmatised in their workplace so they prefer not to tell co-workers of their use for fear of losing their job or being discriminated against (see also Dealing with stigma & discrimination).

Those studying talk about how they fit their consumption around their studies. Some find that consuming alcohol or other drugs helps them to be creative, motivated or better able to concentrate on their studies, while others find it disruptive so they avoid it when they have classes or assignments due. A few say they feel inadequate, or fear failure, in relation to their studies and they use alcohol or other drugs to cope. Studying is considered by some to offer opportunities to ‘party’ and to consume alcohol or other drugs often.

They talk about their strategies for balancing the cost of alcohol and other drug use with other expenses such as rent, food and bills. For some, struggling to make ends meet, or stress related to financial difficulties, has shaped patterns of consumption. Trying to keep up with work and financial responsibilities has encouraged some to change their consumption patterns or seek treatment, but a few also point out that treatment is especially hard to afford when money is tight (see also Changing patterns of consumption).

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Consumption & work

Most participants interviewed for this website do not consume alcohol or other drugs at work, but some say they do. Those who do say that it helps them achieve their work tasks. As John (M, 34, works in health services, ice) says, taking ice ‘helps me with my work […] it makes me feel confident. I seem to have a clearer head at times when I use and […] because I’m more confident I seem to be more effective in my role’. Managing stress or boredom in the workplace is another reason a few consume at work. As Ben (29, M, alcohol, works in hospitality) says of working in hospitality, ‘[I] always [drank] during work time, never at home […] I thought I was able to manage and focus on the job better than if I was sober […] Because of the boredom [at work…drinking] just became a natural thing to make me feel better, to get that high, to feel good at work and enjoy myself’. Others say it helped them to manage their work commitments when they were experiencing depression or going through a difficult time in their lives.

According to Sean (M, 48, works in education, OTC painkillers), taking Nurofen Plus® ‘felt like an emotional regulator’ that helped him cope at work during a difficult time in his life. (Played by an actor)

It was a pretty horrendous time in my life [around the time of my separation from my previous partner…] I was kind of working quite regularly and functioning fine. You know, I remember, for example, having to go [to a meeting…and] I thought, ‘I’ll go and get a coffee and a packet of Nurofen Plus’, as you do, [then] swallowing the Nurofen Plus, going to […the meeting] and sitting there and just having this nice sense of, ‘Okay, in about ten or fifteen minutes I’m just going to get this nice, warm glow and the next six hours will look after themselves’. That’s what it felt like, it just felt like an emotional regulator.

[…I mean] I can work when I’m depressed, but it’s not great, it’s a pretty miserable experience […] Nurofen Plus didn’t stop me getting depressed, but I think it definitely […] just enabled me to go to work and […] just kind of focus on work and actually quite enjoy it, and it felt like I was kind of less assailed by, you know, the stuff […] that was preoccupying me the rest of the time.

Renee (F, 35, works in hospitality, ice) began taking ice every day as an ‘enhancement’ to help her complete her work tasks while on a seven-day roster.

For the last three years, I was on ice every day, working up in [another city]. I was [working in hospitality and tourism] there, but it was too easy a life up there and I was getting too caught up in the game there. Like, even the bosses would be leaving [drugs] in my pocket, you know, like just [to] make sure I was able to do the job every day. So I came back to [this city] and I was working [in tourism] here […] and it was a seven-day roster and, again, I got caught up […] smoking it every day, using it every day, like, as an enhancement.

Matthew (M, 49, not working due to illness, cannabis) says he initially smoked cannabis to ‘unwind’ after work, and later began smoking at work to help him cope with depression.

[I] only smoked [cannabis] casually all my life […] just at night. I’d work a normal life, work all day. And then after I got divorced I was still smoking [cannabis] at night, and I think it was after I got knocked back for a promotion at work I started smoking heavier and smoking during the day at work. And then […] I didn’t want to give it up […] So that’s when I started to feel like it was an addiction. Before that I just thought it was […] like a reward, I suppose […] I worked hard, I was in high pressure jobs and it was just a way, when I got home, to sort of unwind and switch off […] That was most, sort of nights and then it sort of got worse […] when I had trouble at work, yeah. I sort of fell into a bit of depression and I was using that to sort of numb the pain I think. [It] takes your mind off it, changes your mood […] I used to, like, smoke on my lunch break and smoke in between jobs and, yeah, it just sort of progressively got a bit worse.

Workplace culture & alcohol & other drugs

Alcohol and other drug consumption is described by some as an accepted, even encouraged, part of their industry or workplace culture. This is seen as encouraging consumption as it creates opportunities or incentives to drink or take other drugs at work. In some cases these expectations led to the development of consumption patterns they considered to be problematic. As Scott (M, 25, working in hospitality and studying, alcohol) explains, ‘I got a job working at a nightclub in the city and I’d just end up drinking, you know, every day of the week […] You weren’t told to drink but they didn’t care at all […] Then after work, you finish at like 5am and […] I’m still wide awake, so you just keep drinking […] There was so many opportunities’.

Eva (F, 20, works in the entertainment industry, ice) makes a similar point in relation to her experience working in the sex industry, ‘Once I started [doing sex work] it was like a free for all, everyone knew where to get [ice…] The staff members were using it and stuff. Like, they turned a blind eye to it […] If you wanted to make money where I was working, you would have to be like one of the girls at parties [who took drugs with clients]’.

Luke (M, 44, works in retail, alcohol) began drinking daily when working in ‘high pressure’ marketing jobs as he says it was accepted to drink at meetings and after work.

All of a sudden when I started to get into work and I was working in high pressure [marketing and advertising jobs…] I started drinking a lot more then because […we] worked really hard and then everyone would go out for a drink afterwards. And […] then I started to drink every night and that’s when it started to turn into a real problem […] If I was stressed out, I would drink […] It was almost self-medicating really […] I liked my job but I couldn’t deal with the stress of it […] Most [people would] go to the pub after work and it was kind of like a release and [a way to] forget about how […] hard your day was.

[…]

It was like the job and the people, the whole atmosphere and the dynamics, like drinking and the job was kind of related. Because you are in […] marketing and advertising, when you go for a meeting or go for a lunch, it’s all alcohol-related […] so you just kind of couldn’t get away from it.

[…]

I actually quit my first job when I started to realise, but […] I think I’d already hit that routine, so yeah, it just started to get worse and worse.

Fitting alcohol & other drug use around work

A key concern is prioritising work commitments when planning consumption. For some, this means limiting it to after work. For others, this means avoiding alcohol or other drug use during the week and limiting it to the weekends. Some say they limit their consumption to the end of the working day or week as a ‘reward’ for making it through the week, or as a way to release work-related stress. As Dawn (F, 38, unemployed, alcohol) says, ‘I wouldn’t drink during the week because […] I was at work […] Then when the weekend came I would really binge. I would tell myself that was my reward for the week’. A few say that they sometimes take annual leave or sick leave to give them time to recover from ‘a hangover’ before going back to work.

Harry (M, 52, works in the arts, heroin) limits his heroin consumption to evenings after work.

If I’m working the next day then I have to be careful, not about what I use the night before, but […] if there’s any left over, what I might use in the morning. So if I use the night before and I’m working the next day, I will often times – and this is pretty unusual because I would like to have it – leave it at home, because I’ll still […] be fine in the morning and work through the morning. And then I’ll knock off and look forward to get home and have my taste [of heroin] that night. So I’m not using at work […] It actually, if anything, it might give me more energy.

Ted (M, 26, works in the arts, party drugs and cannabis) limits ‘partying’ to Friday nights to allow time to ‘recover’ before work. (Played by an actor)

In my mind, it’s always better if I can party on a Friday night rather than a Saturday because […] if I’m still partying on Sunday then I have to recover on Monday […] So if I can do it on a Friday, that’s usually better […] I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who’s taking drugs on a Tuesday night, unless it’s a concert that I know I’m going to and I’ve taken the morning off or something but […] I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person to be taking drugs all the time. My professional life and even just my personal well-being takes precedence over that.

Access to flexible working arrangements allows some to manage their consumption without it impacting on their work.

Sean (M, 48, works in education, OTC painkillers) says having flexible working arrangements meant he could manage his Nurofen Plus consumption so that it didn’t impact on his work. (Played by an actor)

I think that [taking Nurofen Plus] enabled me to function in all sorts of ways that would have only benefitted my work […] It kind of contradicts that dominant story we have, particularly around, kind of, daily or dependent [drug] use, that […it] will inevitably, kind of, lead to some sort of shameful […] exposure at work or calamity. That just was never the case for me […I mean] I was incredibly lucky to be in a workplace where I was part-time, that was flexible […] where I was trusted, and for good reason, you know. I certainly never saw the drug use being in any way a violation of that trust but it just meant that I could just sort of choose my hours and as long as I produced the work, it didn’t really matter.

Formal treatment programs, especially opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (OPT), help some to fit their consumption around their work commitments. Some say that by reducing the desire for the drug and physical symptoms of ‘withdrawal’, OPT allows them to continue working while cutting down (see also Pharmacotherapy/Medication treatment). As Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) puts it, ‘I just didn’t have the luxury to stop work [to detox]. I had to keep working. So the only way to do that [while] taking the heroin away was with some pharmacotherapy’. However, some also note that pharmacotherapy dosing regimes are difficult to fit in with their work schedules. As Helen (F, 53, not working due to injury, heroin) explains, ‘It has been an issue for me where employers haven’t been very flexible to allow me to get to the clinic on time or, you know, allow me to come in half an hour late because I have to go to the clinic first’.

Starting a new job is described by some as offering a reason or an opportunity to change their patterns of consumption (see also Changing patterns of consumption). For example, Zac (M, 53, works in health services, party drugs) cut down on ice before starting a new job because, as he puts it, ‘I wanted to be in the best head space for how I feel about myself and I how feel about work. So I didn’t want to be, you know, feeling a comedown or being at work and having self-doubt. And with crystal [ice], that’s what it tends to do’.

Confidentiality, telling others & discrimination in the workplace

While some say they feel comfortable telling their co-workers about their consumption, others say they avoid doing so because they’re concerned they’ll be discriminated against or even lose their job if their employer becomes aware of it (see also Relationships, confidentiality & telling others; Dealing with stigma & discrimination). When Tiffany (F, 33, works in hospitality, ice) was working full-time and taking ice every other day, she says, ‘It was tiring […] I felt so guilty […and] so paranoid at work […thinking] I’m going to get caught out’. Several say they feel unsupported by co-workers and some have even lost their jobs in relation to their alcohol or other drug use.

Fozz (M, 59, works in employment services, alcohol) says that while working in an ‘uncongenial […] environment’ his drinking ‘escalated’, but his co-workers made ‘jokes’ about him rather than offering help.

Part 1

It became worse for me because […] I was in a totally uncongenial environment. There’s me, in a work environment which is all blokes and blokey groups and, you know, Australian maleness is something unless you’re born into it, you really don’t get it […] So the work environment became increasingly uncongenial as well, so my drinking escalated and […] then I started taking lots of time off. And that’s when I became aware that, you know, I was getting really ill.

Part 2

I think most people pretend it’s not happening […] I know when I was […] at my worst, I’d turn up to work and, you know, I’d been drinking four days in a row and I’d reek of alcohol […] and yet jokes were made about it, you know. I’m the person with the ‘personality disorder’ and I’m a drunk, those sort of jokes, but no one really said anything because they all drank.

A few say that drug use is something they do in their own time that doesn’t interfere with their work so they don’t see it as their employer’s business. For reasons such as this, some express concern about the introduction of mandatory drug testing in their workplaces. As Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) explains, ‘I think all those jobs that mandatory drug test […] it’s all about bloody insurance […] It’s not about someone’s capability or whether something is genuinely a risk or not […] There are a few jobs that I wanted to go for and I couldn’t because I found out they mandatory drug test’.

Kate (F, 36, works in the health sector, prescription drugs and ice) prefers to keep her ‘personal and work life separate’ and does not disclose her consumption to co-workers. (Played by an actor)

I do kind of have a dependence [on benzodiazepines] now for sleeping and relaxation after work. That concerns me at times, yeah […] when I’m nearly running out and I have to take time out of my day or after work [to get hold of them… It also concerns me that my colleagues could find out] I have that sort of feeling that if they knew, they would feel differently about me or something […] I don’t want them to know […] I think it’s also about keeping my personal and my work life separate, because I can see it as a personal thing and not necessarily something that everybody needs to know about.

One participant, Pauline (F, 51, works in administration, cannabis), says she’s concerned that she may lose her driver’s licence due to cannabis use, which will make it harder for her to find work in the regional area where she lives.

Pauline (F, 51, works in administration, cannabis) is concerned that her ability to find work could be affected if she loses her driver’s licence due to cannabis consumption. (Played by an actor)

Being low income is a big factor playing into all of this. So I knew when I moved up to this region that employment would be really hard […] and I knew that what I did in [the city] was fairly niche kind of work. The reality of it was really awful though […] So I’ve just been living off my […] savings and getting what part-time work I could.

[…]

I’ve just gone for a rare […] well-paid […] job [in a nearby city]. If I lose my [driver’s] licence for pot use I’ll be screwed.* I could live in [this town] without a car [but] it would be difficult […] I could get a pushbike and I could walk around. It’s 15 minutes’ walk from my house into town, so it’s no biggie, but that means I’d have to limit my possibilities of where I work.

* A person may test positive for cannabis some time after they last consumed it. The length of time varies, depending on the amount consumed and the individual’s metabolism.

Study

Of those interviewed who are studying, several say they find alcohol or other drug consumption helps them with their studies. Some, for example, say that smoking cannabis makes them feel more creative, motivated or better able to concentrate. Others say consumption hinders their studies so they avoid it when they have classes or assignments due. Scott (M, 25, studying and working in hospitality, alcohol) says, ‘I almost found that I couldn’t drink if I really wanted to work hard at uni as well. It’s like, I could go to the pub, or I could do that assignment.

Lucy (F, 34, works in retail, cannabis) says smoking cannabis generally helps with her studies, but sometimes she finds it makes her ‘go in circles’ when writing essays. (Played by an actor)

[Smoking marijuana] opens my mind up a little. I see things in a different way. You know, I’m a pretty deep thinker but I notice with it I’ll really sit and think over things. I’ll think more philosophically. I believe it’s giving me a bit more depth when I’m writing, or maybe that’s what I tell myself, but I think for me, it can be really fun.

[…]

I write a lot of poetry and stuff, so for me, smoking is great. Like, it’s really good. But then if it’s, like, essays or whatever […] I’ll be working on something and then I’ll have a [joint] and I’ll start thinking, like, ‘Oh yeah’, and [I’ll] get a whole other avenue of thoughts […] But then when I actually go to sit down to do it, I’m really going in circles […] you know. Whereas if I was straight I would just write that out and I wouldn’t keep going over it […So in that sense] it probably isn’t always useful, but otherwise, I’m pretty fine.

Jenna (F, 31, studying, cannabis) is studying for an Arts degree and says smoking cannabis improves her creativity and music performance.

[Smoking cannabis] affects my creativity. It means my brain can process things in different ways. It has a good effect on my proprioception and musical interpretations and stuff, yeah. […] So it means I can come at [my] projects from a different angle, [with] different sensitivities to music and movement particularly […] It’s like, for me, a link to art and creativity […] When I have taken breaks from [smoking] it hasn’t been an issue. Like, I’ve still been able to be creative. I think the thing that it affects the most [is] in terms of proprioception, like movement and musical pitch and ability. Those things specifically are much harder for me without it […] So if I’m playing music, like playing an instrument and singing, I’ve got a much better sense of pitch when I’m high on weed than I do off it. And there’s kind of much more fluidity when I play an instrument. It’s more intuitive. Like, yeah, I can just hear a lot more subtlety in notes and things.

Consuming alcohol or other drugs helps a few of our participants to cope with feelings of inadequacy or fear of failure in relation to their studies.

When Amy (F, 52, studying, heroin) feels ‘out of [her] depth’ in her studies she sometimes takes heroin to help her to ‘feel better’. (Note: strong language)

Part 1

It’s quite complex. I’m studying because I want to improve my life, but when I come up against things that I feel challenged with or [are] out of my comfort zone […] you know, my first thought would be, ‘Use, self-destruct, run away’. So it’s problematic in that if I don’t use I have a clearer head, I sleep better, I study better, I remember more. So why would I […] do that? It’s not like you think rationally or logically, ‘Oh, if you do that when you wake up in the morning it’s going to be harder to get up for school’. It’s actually, ‘I’m not coping with something right now, if I use I’ll feel better.’ It’s kind of that simple sometimes.

Part 2

You sometimes wonder, ‘What fucking triggered me then?’ But I think sometimes […] it’s that, ‘I felt really lost today. I felt really out of my depth at school. I felt like everyone was getting it but not me. I’m going to go and use because I know how to do that, I get that.’

Some explain that university offered opportunities to meet new people, party and take drugs more often. These opportunities led a few to became more interested in partying than focusing on their studies.

When Dee Jay (M, 24, studying, party drugs and cannabis) started university he became ‘curious’ about drugs and began taking MDMA and cocaine.

In high school, probably about year 11 or 12 […] everyone was going to parties, drinking alcohol and whatnot […] but then I had to kind of concentrate with school back then. But then once I got into uni I just let loose and then one thing led to another. Well, I started with weed first and then I just got very curious […] It was just a whole new world […] Probably about six months in, that’s when I started popping the pills or MDMA and then cocaine came a bit later

Ethan (M, 39, works in hospitality, ice) started to ‘party’ more often in his second year of university and eventually lost interest in his studies. (Played by an actor)

I got through my first year of uni, but then [in] my second year, I was starting to party a lot more and I was more interested in that. I just remember instead of going to a […] lecture, I’d get stoned […] That was kind of how it worked. So yeah, I kept dropping subjects and then re-enrolling and then not going to exams, so that’s kind of when my life became a bit unmanageable […] I was just starting to party a lot […and] I wasn’t really interested in uni any more, I was disillusioned. I was doing a […] degree, and I didn’t know where it was heading […] and my social acceptance was based on using drugs at that time, so I was quite focused on going to parties, going to clubs, using drugs.

Making ends meet

The expense of regular alcohol and other drug use is identified as a downside by many of our participants. Some say they have spent a lot of money on alcohol and other drugs over the years, and that the cost has led them to consider stopping or cutting down (see also Changing patterns of consumption). Paying for rent, food, utility bills and family expenses is the first priority for some, and they organise their consumption around these responsibilities. Some have been involved in criminal activities to help them fund their consumption (see also Contact with the criminal justice system). Struggling to make ends meet and financial stress shaped some people’s consumption practices. For example, Ben (29, M, works in hospitality, alcohol) says, ‘When I was [in my early twenties], I was battling some financial difficulties and was pretty stressed out, and started drinking heavily then. That began [with] drinking on the job again, and yeah, it just escalated from there’.

When Rachel (F, 50, works in the health sector, heroin) found it hard to make ends meet, she took on more work to fund her consumption and cover family expenses. (Note: strong language) (Played by an actor)

The [heroin] drought really fucked us up […] All of a sudden, you just couldn’t get [heroin …but] I just kept trying to. And because I had a lot of good contacts, I probably had stuff a lot longer than other people. But you had to buy it in large amounts […] but I’d use it in the same amount of time that I would use a smaller amount, so everything escalated and I was using more and more, and […that cost] a lot of money. I ended up in debt […So] I just took on a lot of jobs, I was working four jobs. So I’d get up in the morning, you know, go find some gear, get to a job. It was like that. I’d get to my next job and then my next job […] and I did that seven days a week […] Things would be all right and I kept it together, I kept a roof over our heads […] I’ve always kept my family housed and clothed and fed.

Over the years Brad (M, 50, unemployed, speed) has spent a lot of money on speed, alcohol and benzodiazepines, but says this is his choice.

[My drug use now is] kind of self-limited. I mean I just, you know, I don’t want it. I could go out and do it now, but I don’t want to, or I can see that I won’t have any money for anything else […] If you want to go out and spend your money on a house or a car, it’s not frivolous. I mean, in my lifetime I have easily spent [the cost of] a house […] I made that choice. But the day-to-day thing, it’s pretty hard, you know, when all of you’ve got is the clothes you are wearing. Of course to my mind, the damage, the money side of it is the killer […] Look, there’s probably, you know, as with most things, I can regret [the expense]. You know, I shouldn’t have bought it then. I should have spent the money on something else. [It] probably would’ve worked out better. But then there have been times in life where money hasn’t been an issue, you know, for quite a few years. I mean, you know, I had access [to] money […] I’ve had various jobs and been a manager and all this kind of stuff […] You can argue that […] I would have had more money to spend on other things, but that’s discretionary income. It’s up to me what I spend it on and it didn’t interfere with the rest of it: I’ve always been able to […] pay the rent, you know.

For those on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (OPT), a few say they find it hard to afford. Others say that pharmacotherapy helps them to manage the cost of their consumption, or has helped them to stop when it became too expensive (see also Pharmacotherapy/medication treatment).

Grace (F, 58, works in manufacturing, heroin) takes heroin when she can afford to, and when money is tight she goes onto OPT to take a break from heroin. (Played by an actor)

[My partner and I would take heroin…] as often as we could possibly afford it without being on our knees. You know, we always kept our rent paid up, bills paid up pretty good. Sometimes [we’d get] a little bit behind but we would use as much as we could afford to. But like, our kids never went without, they always had [what they needed]. We could always organise something for a school camp or, you know, always had their uniforms and books. We’re not into clothes or anything like that, so we didn’t spend a lot of money in that way. We don’t go out for tea or pizza […] But we would just [have heroin] whenever we could. It was usually pretty often when we were [living in the city] and we’d sort of […take breaks by going] on the methadone […We’d] stop it for a while […] Being perfectly honest, [we would take breaks because of] lack of money mostly […and that’s when we’d go onto methadone or Suboxone].

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