Preferred Name: Andrew
Andrew is single and lives in a rooming house. He works casually in education. Andrew describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he was born in Australia and his parents were born in the Netherlands.
Andrew started smoking cannabis daily in his late teens and in his twenties he started drinking alcohol heavily. He now describes his alcohol and cannabis consumption as ‘addictions’. During his final year of university he completed a residential detox program in an effort to cut down but resumed daily consumption after graduating. Around this time he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and hospitalised several times. In his early thirties he developed a disability and was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Andrew has since stopped drinking and now takes prescribed medication for schizophrenia and PTSD. He continues to smoke cannabis daily and has no plans to stop.
Over the next few years Andrew worked in various jobs and travelled overseas. He says his drinking and schizophrenia became ‘real problems’, and he remembers feeling like he was living ‘in [his] own world’ and just ‘trying to survive’. He now describes his alcohol consumption over this period as ‘a ten-year addiction’ in which he felt like he ‘needed [alcohol] every day’.
In his early thirties he required surgery and developed a disability afterwards. He also began experiencing anxiety, depression, insomnia and tremors. Concerned about his mental health, he went to see a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The psychiatrist prescribed medication for schizophrenia (Abilify®/aripiprazole) and PTSD (Valium® and temazepam, both benzodiazepines), which he found helpful. He says that after the surgery he ‘didn’t have the taste’ for alcohol any more and stopped drinking altogether.
Currently Andrew doesn’t drink but he continues to smoke cannabis daily because, he says, it helps him sleep, cope with his disability, and feel more relaxed and ‘happier with [his] place in the world’.
A few months before the interview Andrew moved to a small regional town. Finding it hard to access regular employment, he’s reduced his cannabis consumption to save money. He plans to find more work to supplement his income, and to return to daily cannabis consumption.
Andrew (M, 41, works in education, cannabis and alcohol) says that he felt a ‘need’ to drink heavily every day, which suggested to him that he had an ‘addiction’ to alcohol.
When I was nineteen alcohol was a problem, but it wasn’t an addiction until a couple of years later [from aged] 22 to 32. A ten-year addiction to alcohol.
I needed it every day. Like, not during the day so much, but by night I would get drunk. Like, I would drink a bottle of bourbon in a couple of hours and just like the heavy stuff, the Black Label, and just wipe myself out. Lose my memory, black out, but have a good time doing it most of the time […] By the age of 29 it was a real problem.
Andrew says regular cannabis consumption helps him manage his disabilities and deal with everyday challenges.
I remember one time just smoking it at home when no one was home, and just going for a ride on my bike and singing along, you know, just singing, and [I] was quite happy. It was quite pleasant, you know. There is no down side to it for me. It really agrees with my personality, like, so much. It makes me feel so much better, way more sociable. And I can enjoy it by myself and it takes away the boredom, and just makes me feel better with life. I have disabilities and it really helps. I’ve got, like, a debilitating disability. I won’t go into that right now, but it’s a physical one, and that’s taken years and years to get my head around. And smoking marijuana really helps with functioning and being able to get on with my life as I am now, with my disabilities.
Andrew stopped driving partly because he wants to avoid roadside drug testing as he regularly consumes cannabis.
[I have] stopped driving, yeah. I gave it away. Just for financial reasons, the price of fuel went up dramatically and now they’re doing the swabs for the cannabis, they never used to do that, so it’s all very off-putting to me. There’s no real point getting my licence again, getting a car again and then getting put off the road with a big fine because I drive under the influence of cannabis, which I may have smoked close to a month ago.* It’s ridiculous to me. I can’t just go a month without [cannabis], because I need to know I [can] drive tomorrow, in a month’s time, you know. I can’t just go without my medicine. [Cannabis is] like my medicine, you know, to me it is.
* 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.