Pot Holes: The Riddled Language of Drugs

Rowlett, Texas

When I attempt to write about drug use, I discover a hole. And no, I don’t mean a hole of despair or a hole in my life or anything else metaphorical or poetic, but an actual hole in the English language where descriptive words should be but aren’t. I’ve found several holes, actually, and today I shall share them with you. This sounds weird, but come with me, and let me show you my holes.

The first hole is the one I encounter the most frequently. Let’s call it the High Hole. I’ll be cruising along in a perfectly crafted sentence, it’s smooth, it’s authentic, I’m loving everything about it... until I realize that I’m headed straight towards that all too familiar roadblock, a part of the road that hasn’t been built yet: I’m going to need a word to describe being on drugs, that is something other than the word “high.”

And there really isn’t one. Where there should be a hundred different words, there’s a mere smattering of words, and none of them great.

For better or for worse, the word “high” has come to be synonymous with marijuana use. As luck would have it, marijuana is perhaps the one drug I did not care for. Nor did I partake of it with any regularity, so a word that makes people think about weed is almost never the right choice for me. Take the sentence, “I was drunk and high,” for example. That makes it sound like I had some beers and smoked a joint, which usually could not be farther from the truth. I keep turning down this dead-end road again and again, because you’d be surprised how many times I want to just simply write that I was drunk and “_____,” and move on, but there’s no good word to put there, other than “high,” and high makes people think of weed. We’ve hit the High Hole.

I need a word to quickly sum up that I was high on cocaine or crack (or any number of other narcotics) without my sentence suddenly reading like a medical examiner’s list of things they found in a tox screen. A list like that is guaranteed to bog down a sentence. Suddenly, as a writer, for clarification purposes I find myself listing off all the drugs I was possibly on, when all I was need was an all-inclusive word like “high.” I just ideally need one that people do not so closely equate with “stoned.”

Let’s look at a few of my other options. I could say that I was drunk and (sorry Mamaw) “f*cked up,” but (as my apology to my grandmother indicates) this phrase requires the king of all curse words and is therefore not always the right choice. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is, and I will use it, but as an alternative to “high,” a phrase that requires me to use the F-Bomb to simply communicate a specific state of inebriation is very cumbersome and has limited appeal. Also, on a technical level, it’s frustrating. Get ready to lose your writing flow entirely, because depending on what device you’re writing on, you are probably about to be the wrangler of a whole bunch of ducks.

From ducking to ducked to ducked up, your life will be overrun with ducks. It’s like sometimes even my devices know “f*cked up” is a wrong and risky writing choice for me. I got in the questionable but hard to break habit many years ago of texting writing notes to myself throughout the day. Not a great system, I know, but I've been doing it so long, I find it very hard habit to break. (Ugh, add it to the list!). And let me just tell you, sometimes you really have to fight to keep that F-Bomb in there! I’m sure all of you are too genteel to have ever tried texting such an unsavory word before, but even in the Notes App, you have to really want it. It’s an an uphill battle. You have to have unwavering determination that “f*ck” is the right word for your sentence, because your phone is gonna put up an admirable fight every single time, and do everything in its power to wear you down. So much of my writing has been inadvertently cleaned up and whitewashed not for any editorial reason, but because I simply got tired of fighting with my phone and thought, “Fine! Duck it, I’ll use something else! Happy?”

Sure, we can replace “f*cked up” with the euphemism “messed up,” but the connotation here is that I was not only on said drugs, but on them in some sort of “messy” way. When that may or may not have been the case.

See, “drunk,” without any qualifiers, is clean and void of any connotation until you add the adjectives yourself. I was “sloppy drunk” or that man was an “angry drunk,” and so forth. Therefore, writing that I was “messed up” on drugs indicates a level of sloppiness that I frequently am not wanting to imply. Again, the word “drunk” simply implies intoxication, without saying what type, and I want a similar word for cocaine and crack.

I do not read a lot of books by other crack addicts, so I don’t know how they have solved this problem. I usually read science fiction or fantasy novels, and so this particular semantic problem doesn’t come up a lot. It is also possible that crack addicts don’t write and publish a lot of books, which is why these “pot holes” have been allowed to stay empty for so long.

There is, of course, the term “coked up,” as in, “I was drunk and coked up when I ran my car up onto the median,”** but it is hard to read the words “coked up” without immediately picturing someone who is all jittery and practically bouncing off the walls. In fact, the second I see or hear that phrase, “coked up,” an image of a guy sniffing and swiping at his nose with the cuff of his sleeve immediately pops unbidden into my mind. Like all the other terms we’ve auditioned, it has a very specific connotation, and one I’m seldom looking for in my writing.

This phenomenon of unwanted and preexisting connotations is perhaps most true when considering the term for a user of crack cocaine, the ubiquitous moniker “crack head,” which — don’t lie— instantly makes you think of a homeless street junkie. Maybe this person is standing next to an oil barrel fire… it’s Dave Chapelle, isn’t it? You’re picturing Dave Chapelle! And that’s fine, but sometimes I don’t need you picturing Mr. Chapelle, I need a term for the more upstanding and responsible user of concentrated cocaine, like myself. Sadly, however, look as though I might, I’ve yet to find any other more appropriate sobriquet. “Crackhead” is pretty much the only game in town.

The next hole I’d like to explore, if you’re ready, is one that not only applies to drugs but also to alcohol, so let’s call it the Thirsty Hole. I frequently find myself in need of a word that indicates being “ready for a drink” or “fiending for a hit,” but I need it to be small and concise like the words “thirsty” or “horny”. Essentially, I just want an adjective. I have hunger; therefore, I am hungry. I need a drink (specifically an alcoholic drink) therefore I am… drink-y? See, that’s not a word. And while “thirsty” is a word, it makes everyone think about hydration and just the need for a replenishing liquid in general. Unlike “high,” which had connotations that were too specific, thirsty is too broad and doesn’t communicate the urgency an alcoholic often feels for a swig of liquor. Conversely, the word “fiending,” as in, “I was fiending for a drink” or “fiending for another hit” is way too gritty, and it mentally takes us back to the Dave Chapelle place. Aren’t we all instantly picturing a junkie scratching at their arms when I say the word “fiending?” Also, “fiending” still isn’t an adjective, so it fails on all accounts, and even if I wanted to be gritty, fiend-y isn’t a word.

Next, let’s talk about the Awkward Hole. I know it sounds like I’m going to maybe start talking about ear sex here, but it’s actually much more boring than that. I just don’t like the word “drugging.” Let’s take a phrase like, “Back when I was drinking and drugging, ear sex didn’t interest me,” and examine how clumsy the word “drugging” is. (I know it’s hard, but ignore the ear sex, ugh, now I wish I’d never used that example...).

“Drinking and drugging” sounds like a phrase a narc or parent in a PSA video would use, and it feels inauthentic the second I write it. “Betty, be honest, were you and your friends out drinking and drugging last night?” See? This is terrible. And yet, replacing it with “partying” has its own set of problems, too, as now we’ve overshot, and found a word that makes me think of nightclubs and raves, when maybe I’m just talking about me and Jeff quietly smoking some crack cocaine in the privacy of our own home. It’s just a Tuesday evening after work. I’d hardly call that “partying,” so this, again, is a too highly connotative word for many situations. Besides, “partying” unnecessarily implies way too much activity.

This is also why I do not much care for the phrases “doing drugs” or “using drugs,” as in, “they were driving down the highway, drinking and using drugs,” because both “using” and “doing” are action words, and it makes it sound like the people in my sentence are somehow actively eating or smoking or shooting the drugs as they drive. Which is unlikely, and rarely what I’m trying to describe.

Which brings me back full circle to the sentence I originally wanted to write all along and continue to want to write with great frequency: that I was “driving down the highway, drunk and _____.” The word doesn’t need to be high like a weed smoker or coked up like a jittery sleeve sniffer, just… you know, f*cked up (although not necessarily messed up), but ideally not the F Bomb either, or any other unpublishable word that would make my Mamaw wince.

It’s no small list of demands I’ve set forth, but who am I kidding? Most of the stories I want to tell, in which these yet-to-be-invented words might appear, are so gritty, wince-worthy, and unpublishable anyways, that perhaps these are holes that don’t really need filling after all. Maybe my holes were meant to forever remain unfilled.

Yikes. That joke again, huh? This is terrible.

Maybe this is why crack addicts don’t write too many novels. Even if the linguistic "pot holes" were filled, listening to the rantings and ravings (and POTTY humor) of a born-again crackhead is a road few people care to journey down at all.


** True story, I just don’t know where to tell it or what photo to pair it with. For obvious reasons, no photo exists showing my car, totaled, smoldering and pointing the wrong way up on the median, while police officers (who I sincerely thought had come to help me change a tire) were actually trying to arrest me and take me to jail.

Guess they didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t drunk or high... or stoned or intoxicated or inebriated or f*cked up or messed up or drugging or partying or coked-up or cracked-out...

but had merely hit a pothole.