This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia
Stepping into your 40s is a shock to many because of the harsh realisation that even if your brain is still in its prime, your body is not. For some, the only way to keep an illusion of youth is to cheat the body into thinking it can work via illegal substances that can only harm it in the long run. And so a vicious cycle begins.
It's really hard to tell when the party is over but, sometimes, it's even harder to find your way home. We spoke to high-functioning drug users who are in their 40s about their vices and how these may have affected their lives.
"I started using cocaine in my early 30s. It wasn't because of peer pressure or because I enjoyed the inflated sense of self it offers; I had enough confidence to manage the constant parties and business dinners my job demands without drugs – but I didn't have the stamina. I needed it to survive all-nighters and keep a fake smile plastered on my face, when all I could think of was my warm bed. I considered coke a natural helper, not a drug.
Alcohol made me dull and sleepy and energy drinks made me gassy, so I saw coke as my only option. And for a while it worked: a line in the morning, after another night out, was enough to get me through the rest of the day – to take my kids to school, to run my errands, to work. Whenever I felt my energy drop, I'd take another bump. And another one to fight off the comedown. I could afford it, and since it felt like it helped me deal with my work I rationalised that the cocaine actually helped me make even more money. And because of that and the fact that I kept the goods to myself, nobody noticed my habit. My family did suffer a little – mostly my wife, because I always found time and energy for my children, less for her. By doing a bump, if necessary.
I don't regret the money I've wasted on cocaine, but I do regret what it has done to my health.
I was a successful professional on the outside and a ticking time bomb on the inside. In bed one morning, I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. I started getting heart cramps and one arm felt stiff. I'd heard that must mean I was having a stroke. I panicked and the only think I could think of to do was to take a Xanax. When I finally did see a doctor, he prescribed pills and gave me strict instructions to slow down with my lifestyle. In short – to stop using cocaine.
It was a real struggle. By that time, I was already separated from my family and would spend my days in deadly apathy. I kept going to work but faltered, because I lost my energy level. Sometimes I'd do another tiny bump, just to get over my bouts of depression.
My sons are almost grown now, and I've never mustered the courage to talk openly about drugs to them, possibly because I haven't been able to kick the habit entirely myself. I still occasionally feel the urge to take another bump, whatever the consequences. But I manage to stay away most of the time. If I was an honest man, I'd tell my kids that coke is an addictive drug – mostly because of what you can do and feel when you are on it without much of an effort. And that I'd take it again, despite the price I've paid. Not the financial price – I don't regret that – but I do regret what it has done to my health."
"Being their only child, I grew up as my mum and dad's little princess. We always went on ski trips and exotic holidays abroad, I had all the clothes and toys I could dream of – I had everything. Despite my parents spoiling me, I was also a great student and never really misbehaved. They trusted me so I was given unlimited freedom, which I never abused.
The people I hung out with were beautiful, fashionable and always drunk. The fact that this bored me no end didn't make me look for a different crowd. I wasn't one of them but I certainly wasn't one of any other group, either. That changed the night I met the love of my life, at one of these boring parties. He was arrogant and very open about his resentment for everybody there but for some reason, he spared me and won me over. He was smart and fearless, and at some point in the night, he offered me a bump of a yellowish-white powder, wrapped in tinfoil. He showed me how to snort it, I did, and I immediately felt an urge to barf. I managed to control myself though, because a lady doesn't throw up.
I never wanted the fun to end, but it did when my husband overdosed.
He asked me whether I liked it and I had to admit I did. 'It's heroin,' he said. I tried it again, and again, and again. But true love for heroin grows only when you shoot it – which I started doing a few months later. In the years that followed, we travelled the world, stayed in fancy hotels, took hit after hit. We loved each other and never fought, but there was one difference between us – I knew when to stop but he never had enough.
Then our daughter was born. We considered whether or not to have her, but my parents jumped in and convinced me to keep the baby. I never wanted the fun to end, but it did when my husband overdosed and died. That was when I realised that I needed to take responsibility for our daughter and started my own accountancy business. For a while, heroin helped me run it with an unclouded mind. But the care for my daughter and the realisation that my health was ruined brought me to my senses. I joined a rehabilitation programme based on methadone, so I'm still on drugs – only legally.
I've kept my past and present from my daughter. She seems to come from a different world than the one I've spent such a big part of my life in: She doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and avoids anyone who uses weed recreationally. She would probably freak out if she knew about my drug use – or she simply wouldn't believe it.
I exercise now. My health is my priority, for my daughter's sake. I don't regret anything I've done, but I'd die if my daughter chose to live her life the way I did."
"I'd always been a drinker but except for the occasional joint, I hated drugs. That changed ten years ago, at 35, at a friend's house party. Everyone in attendance was over 35 – most were over 40. We were parents, divorced, freshly separated or fighting to save the shell of a marriage.
I was offered a line of cocaine from the cover of a CD of children's songs. I'd seen enough on TV to immediately see in my mind's eye the montage of my tragic death – have a panic attack, lose everything and everyone dear to me, OD on a stained mattress in a crack den. I tried it anyway. A while later, I asked for some more.
I tried it again a couple of years later, and that was the start of what became a problem. I kept drinking a lot, and cocaine helped me to keep my focus. Drinking became senseless without coke. What used to be just a terrible hangover became a comedown that included heart palpitations, a lack of oxygen, paranoia, depression and other dark thoughts. I tried to solve those comedowns with more coke, which meant racking up lines became a daily ordeal.
Since I wasn't feeling well and found it really hard to get out of bed on certain days, I started skipping work regularly. I maxed out my credit cards and started buying cocaine on a loan, which I'm still paying off today. I took it at home, alone – which is basically like throwing it in the bin. But the fact that I was older when I started doing it may have saved me too. I was surrounded by relatively responsible grown-ups who noticed that something was very wrong with me. Friends and people from work called me and started pushing me to get a grip. It isn't as much fun to get high when you have all these worried friends bothering you. On top of that, I was broke and my skin literally started turning green.
I don't use cocaine any more. Looking back, it frightens me that it took me so little time to become completely obsessed with it. It was so easy to get hooked, I should never think I'm completely over it."
Now that I'm older, I don't mind paying a bit more for my drugs, and I'm more cautious. I use them in my flat, never outside.
"I started smoking weed recreationally in high school. I didn't smoke every day – except maybe sometimes during the summer or winter holidays. At times I wouldn't smoke for months – because I wouldn't have money or because I'd have exams. These days, I'm the same: I like smoking weed but I don't go crazy if I don't have any. I don't call a dealer anymore – I feel I'm too old for that, or to buy rolling paper in a shop. I'd be embarrassed. My friends do it, and I chip in.
Now that I'm older, I don't mind paying a bit more for my drugs, and I'm more cautious. I use them in my flat, never outside. I like to experiment though – I like seeing what different kinds of drugs do to me in different circumstances or quantities. I'm not a junkie or a stoner.
My job has some aspects that don't require my full attention, so I'll sometime smoke a joint when I'm waiting for something to be finished or doing some basic research.
I did a lot of ecstasy, LSD and speed in my rave days, but when I got bored with that subculture I also got tired of those drugs. I'd love to take acid again but this time somewhere peaceful – in a park with my friends, or watching a meteor shower on the beach.
I tried cocaine for the first time in my late 20s, and the possibilities of the drug intrigued me. But coke is way too expensive for me. When I was younger, you'd only take coke when there was a very special party, but now it seems like a daily ritual for a lot of people – something you take naturally if you go out drinking. Ten years ago, someone offering you a line would be like them giving you a fancy birthday present – these days in the bars I visit, everybody goes to the loo together for a bump. I guess it's a drug I could easily get used to if I had enough money, so it's a good thing that at 40, I'm still kinda broke."
"Over the years, I've sporadically taken cocaine and amphetamines – always recreationally, at parties and clubs. I quit doing that once I realised that nothing good ever happened to me while under the influence. It's a fake, purposeless euphoria. Once you consume some, you just want more and doing more drugs becomes the purpose of doing drugs. The problem for me is not the comedown the next day – it's my bad conscience for having spent so much money on such a poor experience.
But if I was given the option to go back in time and erase my experiences of experimenting with drugs, I'd probably still do it. I'm just very curious. I'd do less drugs though, and less often. I'd start later in life and stop sooner.
I have been very open about my drug use with my children. My advice was that it's never too late to try. But whatever you do, you have to do it sensibly and with moderation. If you don't, your life becomes vulgar."
If you need to talk to someone about drug abuse, contact Action on Addiction on 0300 330 0659 or visit their website.
You can also get confidential drugs advice from Talk to Frank on 0300 123 6600.