Is Your Date Doing Drugs?

Maybe he’s acting strange. Or she’s super secretive. Here, telltale signs your sweetie has a monkey on his back.

By Dave Singleton

am, 31, is a smart and attractive lawyer-on-the-rise in Washington, D.C. He’s the perfect looks-good-on-paper guy. That’s why fellow lawyer Andrew, 32, was excited at the prospect of dating him. The excitement lasted until Andrew discovered, after several weeks of dating, that ‘perfect Sam’ wasn’t so perfect after all. He had a monkey named Tina on his back.

“I found out the hard way,” says Andrew. “I didn’t know he was
“He acted like a guy with a secret.”
using crystal meth until we were partying one night with his friends, and he was clearly high as a kite. He admitted later that he hid it from me since he knew I wouldn’t like it. I had to stop dating him. It was too dangerous to be around.”

Sadly, substance abuse is a common problem for gays and lesbians (according to several studies, it affects gays and lesbians relatively more than the average population). Some of us are more aware of its prevalence than others.

“I hadn’t been around drug users before. I didn’t even know the terminology,” says Chicago native Allan, 26, whose budding relationship with James, 28, came to an abrupt halt after two months. “But I learned the names of the drugs pretty quick by hanging around James and his buddies. Calling these drugs by nicknames sounded so funny at first. Tina is crystal meth. Connie is cocaine. But it wasn’t funny when I realized how it changed him. When using, he became moody and verbally abusive. I couldn’t take it.”

Like Andrew and Allan, you can’t always know upfront if your date has a monkey on his back. But are there early telltale signs to indicate substance abuse? These daters found out the hard way that, while not foolproof, the following traits are red flags:

Your date socializes with substance abusers.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire,” says Jerry, 46, of Florida. “I saw a charming man for a few months. He was great when we were alone. But he acted completely different around his friends, who were all drug abusers and alcoholics. He was wild, reckless, and insensitive to me. That ultimately ended it.”

Your sweetie is jealous and/or controlling.
“After a few months, my boyfriend Jim would get angry and suspicious,” says Jeff, 34,
Remember: You can’t control someone else.
who lives in Maryland. “In an accusatory tone, he’d ask me questions like, ‘Who were talking to at that party?” He’d get jealous and angry at me for doing things I actually hadn’t done, like flirting with his friends. I soon recognized the pattern. ‘Angry Jim’ always kicked in when he’d been using.”

Your date is secretive to an extreme.
“I was seeing a guy who always screened his calls and never wanted me to know much about him,” says William, 36, who lives in New York. “He acted like a guy with a secret, which, it turns out, he was. He abused painkillers and didn’t want me to know.”

Your honey becomes verbally abusive and/or blaming.
“Lisa was a big drinker,” says Alisha, 30, of Oregon. “I didn’t realize it at first. I thought she was just very social until I saw her get wasted several times in public. When I questioned her about her habits, she’d get mad at me as if her acting out was my fault.”

Your date has sudden mood swings, anger or irritability—but doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I dated Ken, who had a cocaine habit. His sudden mood swings were the giveaway,” says Robert, 35, who lives in Virginia. “He was my age and professionally successful. But I learned how erratic he could be after several weekends together. One minute he was even-keeled; the next he was wired. When he crashed, he’d take it out on me. That lasted a few weeks until I wised up and got out.”

What can you do if faced with a substance-abusing date?

Decide for yourself what constitutes abuse and stick to your standards.
Obviously, alcohol, tobacco, and prescription medications are legal and many use them in moderation. But how much is too much? “When I was evaluating Lisa’s behavior, I had to consider my own,” says Alisha. “I drink. But no one complains when I do. I came to the conclusion that Lisa’s partying causes negative personality changes and harm.”

Keep an eye out for your own patterns.
Especially if you have a history of dating addictive or compulsive people. “I tended to date guys like Jim,” says Jeff. “I still don’t understand why. But after breaking up with Jim, I went into counseling last year to try to break this pattern.”

If you feel comfortable doing so, suggest to your date that he get help.
“I tried several times to get Sam into a rehab program,” says Andrew. “He got mad at me for even bringing it up. There’s only so much you can do.” Experts agree that you can’t control someone else, enabling the behavior won’t help, and repeating yourself until you sound like a harpy won’t make your date listen to you, either. The decision to change has to be his or hers alone.

Get professional help if you are vested in the relationship.
But only if you want to try to work things out. This step might be premature, however, for a new dating relationship. But if it’s an avenue you want to pursue, find a support network that includes a therapist and/or a group like Al-Anon. You can search for a therapist specializing in codependency or addiction at Support and guidelines from Al-Anon are available by visiting, or calling 1-888-4AL-ANON (1-888-425-2666), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

Walk away.
“There’s a saying in AA that, ‘A drunk will get you drunk quicker than you’ll get him sober,’” says Jerry. Substance-abuse issues are usually progressive, meaning they’ll get worse before they get better, unless the abuser addresses his or her problem. So first and foremost, you have to keep yourself healthy and safe. Know that if your date exhibits substance-abuse behavior that makes you uncomfortable, it’s OK for you to walk away.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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