He gets high, but it brings me down

Drugs, so much a part of the club scene, can destroy a relationship when one partner is a user and the other abstains. Is there a way to compromise ? By Annabelle Thorpe
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The recent comments made by pop stars Brian Harvey and Noel Gallagher about drug use - Harvey seemingly condoning Ecstasy, Gallagher suggesting that drug-taking was no more remarkable than "having a cup of tea" - have finally made the rest of the country realise what everyone in their teens and twenties has known for some time. Recreational drug use has never been as common as it is today, and clubbing - and the drugs that go with it - is the firmly established youth subculture of the Nineties. For those of us who have grown up with drugs they are pretty much an accepted part of the social scene: clubbers take Ecstasy and speed, City types and rich kids snort cocaine, students take acid and half the population seems to smoke blow.

The extent of drug use is such that, even if you are not a user, it is highly likely that the person with whom you are having a relationship, or may have a relationship in the future, will use drugs in some form or another. What, then, happens to a relationship when one partner is an habitual user and the other abstains?

Clare has recently split up with her partner, Jake, a devoted clubber. It wasn't that he wanted to go every weekend, or that he demanded she went along with him, more that it was an experience they couldn't share - even if she did go to the club.

"It would always start off OK," says Clare. "But then they'd all take a pill and half-an-hour later they'd be off in a place I couldn't get to - feeling all these heightened emotions and sensations that I couldn't even imagine. I'd often be quite drunk, thinking it would help me to relax and get into it, but all that happened was that by three in the morning I'd be dead tired and feel hung over. He, by this stage, would probably have done half a gram of speed and was able to carry on going until morning. I just got tired of getting cabs home on my own and spending the whole of Sunday nursing Jake through the come-down.

Drugs provoke much stronger and more extreme reactions in people than does alcohol. Many non-users feel little respect for those who do take drugs, believing them to be a form of weakness or escape. And once respect is lost, the relationship can die.

Jacqui can testify to this. Her boyfriend, Mike, works in a wine bar in the City, where cocaine is pretty much common currency. It was six months into their relationship before she realised the extent of his use.

"Because it's in the City, everyone is always throwing money around, buying bottles of champagne and running off to toilets to do lines of coke. I thought it was all a bit pathetic and thought Mike had the same opinion. Then I discovered, through talking to a couple of the regulars, that although Mike rarely bought coke, he'd often do a line with them. He'd let good clients run a tab behind the bar, or give them free drinks now and then, and they'd return the favour with a couple of lines of charlie, as they all called it.

"Coke is basically an unattractive drug. It makes people arrogant and aggressive. I'd be having a really nice evening with Mike in his bar, then he'd disappear off to the toilets with a couple of suits and come back a completely different person. He never takes coke unless he's at work, and says it's all part of the scene he has to fit into. I just think the whole thing is pretty sad."

Often, the danger for non-users is that in their desperation to reach the same mental state as their partners they try the drug, with unpleasant consequences.

"Jake's clubbing and use of Ecstasy became a real problem between us," says Clare. "In desperation, I decided the only thing to do was to take Ecstasy as well. It was a simple case of, if you can't beat them, join them. All his friends took E and I felt very unfashionable and dull. I was really nervous about doing it and didn't really want to. Luckily, I told a friend, who could see I was doing it for all the wrong reasons and persuaded me out of it. Although he didn't say anything, I think Jake wanted me to take E. We'd been a couple of times to clubs and he'd stayed straight so that we'd be able to enjoy it in the same way. The problem was, he just didn't enjoy it."

Clare and Jake split up through the pressures associated with drugs. Clare couldn't forgive him for wanting her to take the same drugs, and couldn't respect him for his inability to enjoy a night in a club without taking E. In turn, she believes Jake thought her intolerant and repressed - holding middle-aged opinions about what, to him, was just an enjoyable way to spend an evening.

Jacqui, who is still with Mike, believes that blank non-acceptance of a partner's habits causes more problems than it solves. "The only way to sort out this kind of problem is to compromise. You have to be realistic; drugs are a part of our lives and they have to be dealt with. Mike and I have agreed that if I come down to the bar to see him, he doesn't take coke. When I'm not there, he can do what he wants. I don't ask. The funny thing is, I'm not particularly anti-drugs - I just am where Mike is concerned. But, thankfully, he's accepted that as my point of view."

"To be honest," says Clare, "I'm sick of the whole subject of drugs. There's too much emphasis put on them - it's almost as if you're much more normal if you do use than if you don't."

Jacqui agrees. "I know a lot of the blokes in Mike's bar think I'm boring, and try to stop him having a good time. Since I think they're a bunch of morons, I don't really care. But Mike and I decided that drugs were not as important as our relationship, and that we could sort it out. You have to keep a sense of perception about it all, a sense of what really matters"n