Used cigarette butts disguise themselves among the dust and rubbish that line the sidewalks along Taft Avenue. It’s 7am, and only hours before, the last of the Happy Thursday goers staggered back to their dorms or into cabs. Small bars and condo units make for centers of excellence in drugs and cheap booze. And to many, this marks the quintessential college experience.
Last October, AdCreate’s anti-drug campaign had students and faculty alike taking a stand, claiming it’s “Never Okay”, and making use of a simple yet striking “X” in banners and stickers around campus. But in the clash between the conservatives and liberals of this anti-drug war, society fails to set the spotlight on the ones who’ve been there and done that. They’ve called it quits, coming out of the gray area to break the taboo surrounding vices.
First time highs
“I was so high, I was talking to a cat, then I played Minecraft and I threw up,” jokes Paul* (I, MEM-MR) as he recalls spacing out. What started as innocent curiosity at pre-pubescent 14 soon had him shelling out P500 every two days.
While a few like Paul have been getting stoned since high school, most only get the chance during their early college days. “You’re trying things out. You know, we [kids] tend to be very adventurous,” begins Carl* (PSM, ‘13) who learned how to smoke marijuana from his friends during his sophomore year in DLSU. “It was a two-minute laughing stock,” he describes his first hit.
Choice of poison
It’s no question the nicotine content in every cigarette stick is what makes it both addictive and fatal. “Cigarettes give you this sense of focus and clarity that’s difficult to explain to a non-smoker,” explains Enrique* (IV, PSM) who’s been smoking for five years on and off. With students reaching up to two packs a day at P5 a stick, switching up from Camels to Pall Mall reds, much of it is influenced by social situations, similar to gossip and prolific use of foul language—thus, the term ‘social smoker’.
On the other hand, there are some who are into it solely for tobacco’s unique flavor. “Though I have nothing against smokers like the ones in Agno, I don’t see it like you gotta smoke with your friends,” says Kevin* (V, PSM) who only smokes at home. “Same with liquor, I never did it socially. I was after the taste, the brew.”
Carl also picked up cigarette smoking early on in high school, but eventually quit without intending to. “When I tried weed, I lost the interest for drinking and smoking,” he says. “Marijuana is a lighter version of cigarettes,” Carl reasons. “What’s the point of smoking cigarettes when you can smoke weed?”
Blazed and confused
A number of chain smokers often think of themselves as cooler and more attractive, just puffing by a corner in a smoke bubble of their own. “Wow, smoke coming out of my mouth,” Kevin motions puffing into air. “[But] if you learn it, it can actually kill you… One day, it’ll hit you,” he shares how he noticed his gums getting dark and his teeth turning yellow. “[It] affects my stamina big time,” agrees Nathan* (I, IE) who now has difficulty playing basketball.
“I encountered a lot of problems and anxiety,” explains Frank*, an ex-dealer who ran away from home. A whirlwind of events later and he was in a whole different kind of crazy. “I got addicted to shabu,” he later admits.
With a grave shift in mood, he grew paranoid and started hearing voices throughout February to May earlier this year. “Physically, I [would] feel good. Emotionally, nope,” he explains how meth would keep him up for two days, so he’d have to take valium just to fall asleep, and smoke weed to help his appetite.
So long, farewell
By Frank’s 20th birthday last May, he had returned home after the traumatic experience. “Sabi ko lang sa sarili ko, ayoko na, so yun I stopped,” he recalls undergoing a month of recovery. “It’s freakin’ good to be clean,” he exclaims. In contrast, Paul confesses, “I had nothing to do. That was honestly the hardest part: being bored every night.” He went cold turkey over the summer, but since starting again last month, Paul has decided to smoke only every Thursday.
Some are forced by loved ones to stop, while others, like Nathan, do it to impress someone, knowing the object of their affections has a preference for non-smokers. Meanwhile, every so often, these habits become a matter of contention for couples, forcing one party or the other to stop.
Psychology major Enrique understands that despite becoming irritable, “I find it easier to stop than most because my habit has a stimulus: Becoming stressed or emotional makes me crave a cigarette.” By removing the stimulus, which he attributes to feelings of relief, his need to pick up a cigarette is less prevalent.
Mind over matter
Quitting may be more difficult for those who have been smoking for so long that their cravings aren’t stimulated by anything other than habit itself. “But you’ll just have to remember you can control it,” reminds Carl, who sees himself someday taking a hiatus from his lovely, lovely joints if he ever finds himself going overboard, just to assert control.
It may mean having to find a new hobby, but most quitters, including Frank, stress, “There are alternative ways to be happy.” Inevitably, each individual will go through a series of withdrawals—ranging from headaches to fevers, mood swings and weight changes—picking up other habits like nail biting or chewing gum along the way. “If you really wanna quit,” Carl adds, “you find a way to quit… It’s about coping with things you’re not used to.” Similar to building up a tolerance in the beginning, quitting is building up a tolerance to do without.
Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to solving it. We often point fingers at peers who don’t realize the size of their own obsessions, and addiction resonates in areas of life outside your not-so-secret stash and away from your suki vendor.
Professional gaming might be the nicer term to excuse someone who spends 20 hours a day playing DOTA. Some constantly refresh their timelines every minute, party veterans just can’t pass on another weekend in Pool Club, and there’s more caffeine and alcohol in some people’s systems than there is water. Yet we all know someone who’s given up drinking, and there are plenty of examples of social media addicts who have deactivated Twitter.
In truth, we’ve each already experienced becoming that one friend who needs to be cleansed from the many things consuming us. There’s a fine line between passion and addiction—too much of a good thing becomes destructive, after all. The journeys of those fighting to get away from the devil in a red dress in the form of their favorite Marlboro lights are filled with wistful stories of loving and leaving some of life’s unprecedented highs.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.