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Miss Conduct

Advice: How can I ask if my relative is on drugs?

I don’t want to offend them just because they’re talking nonsense. Plus, comb-overs vs. braids.

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Is there a good way to ask if someone is high without implying that they are talking nonsense? This is particularly for relatives who are open about being on cannabinoids or opioids, where “Did you take your dose?” sounds overly nurse-like and micromanagerial.

Anonymous / Boston

It’s a bit condescending, but it’s not the full-on Nurse Ratched — that would be “Did we take our dose?” And since she’s my 2020 Halloween character: Why do we need to know if our relatives are high? Are they intending to drive? Are they, in fact, talking nonsense, possibly during an argument with you? Are they tense and irritable in a way that suggests they should be taking their drugs right now and maybe don’t realize it, the way people will sometimes forget to eat or drink water and then not understand why they’re cranky or headachy? Does interacting with people who are on certain substances (opioids, cannabis, alcohol) upset you?

Drugs like these are a taboo/hot-button topic, and that kind of topic lights up people’s brains and makes them feel like everything is more of a Very Special Episode than it is. You already have the language for whatever you need to say: “Are you OK to drive?” “This conversation isn’t going anywhere, I’m bowing out.” “You seem like you’re having a bad day, can I get you a snack or some tea or your meds?” “Talking to people when I’m sober and they aren’t really bothers me. Can we FaceTime before you take your pills at night?” See? Ask yourself how you would handle whatever is bothering you if it were caused by something other than drugs, and use that as your guide. (If you’ve had a number of difficult situations with someone that you think are related to their medications, have a more serious talk with them at some point when you know they are clearheaded, and express your concerns and boundaries.)

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On September 27, you wrote that it was OK to make fun of “comb-overs,” because — well, I’m not sure why. Only old people have comb-overs. Wouldn’t it be considered ageist?

B.M. / Lexington

I wrote no such thing. I wrote that a person who criticizes a politician’s style choices would do well to understand the historical and cultural background of those choices. In that context, I compared comb-overs with braids. Let me elaborate: The comb-over has no spiritual significance. The comb-over is not an aesthetic technique thousands of years old and visible on the Venus of Willendorf. The comb-over does not require the time, effort, and skill of another person, thereby strengthening the bonds of family and friendship. The comb-over does not represent the only link its wearers may have to the culture of their ancestors after generations of colonialism and slavery. The comb-over has never been declared illegal. Wearers of comb-overs have not been banned from their schools, or had their hair forcibly cut off by police and teachers, or to comply with workplace requirements.

The comb-over convinces no one, and neither does your grievance and “gotcha.”


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.