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Is Marijuana Addictive?
Some claim weed is not addictive because ‘it doesn’t cause death by overdose’ and ‘people don’t go through withdrawals when they stop using weed.’ These people are misguided. Here’s why:
Addiction is not simply defined as having a physical dependence (what causes a person to experience withdrawals) on something; addiction is a mental illness. A substance can be psychologically addictive without causing physical dependence. In each of these marijuana stories, the person using has developed a psychological dependence on weed, causing his or her quality of life to suffer to some degree or another.
‘Ryan’ thought there was no way he could have a weed problem
“How could I be an addict? My life is great. I live in a very good area of Los Angeles, drive a nice sports car, have a good job, pay all my bills, and have a wonderful family. This is not the kind of person I grew up believing an addict was. So I smoke pot every day. I still take care of business when it needs to be done. I just use marijuana to relax when I get home from work. I never smoke before or during my job. So I smoke from 4 p.m. ‘til midnight every night and do nothing but watch television. It’s not a problem; I have nothing else to do anyway.”
A Loss of Potential: A Common Factor Among All Marijuana Addiction Stories
Struggles with addiction can yield different consequences for everyone. That being said, one thing that is always seen in weed addiction stories is a loss of potential in the person who is using. Developing a mental dependence on a substance can result in a lack of motivation to do things that don’t include the substance. For example:
After a while, ‘Ryan’ didn’t see a reason to leave his house anymore
“Oh, I had lots of friends. One reason might have been that I always had a bag of pot on the coffee table with papers and a pipe ready to go. If you came in just help yourself. That way I didn’t have to go out and I still had the illusion of having a lot of good friends. I would go to parties occasionally, but only if I knew most of the people that were going to be there. I didn’t like being stoned in front of people I didn’t know in case I made a fool of myself. I very rarely took vacations since most of my money was going into pot. My life was boring. If it weren’t for people coming over to my house, I probably would have never seen anyone.”
As with any addiction, once the brain makes the drug a priority, the user starts to let other priorities fall to the wayside.
‘Kevin’ didn’t care that he was failing in school
“My parents knew what was up. My 1.6 grade point average was a big clue that I had something more important to do than homework. When I got caught dealing, my parents decided to raid my room. They found everything but the pot I had on me. I didn’t care. I smoked out the day after I got caught. So, I was busted. Big deal. I promised to go to MA, but I really didn’t intend to stay sober. I didn’t want to be in a room full of addicts because I thought I could stop anytime I wanted to. I just didn’t want to.
Marijuana was more important to ‘Darren’ than having a home
Darren had his first cigarette at age 11 and his first taste of alcohol when he was 12. Darren says around that time, he started to hang out with people from around the neighborhood he knew were members of gangs. At age 13, Darren started smoking marijuana, and by the year after that Darren says he was doing ‘hard drugs.’
During this time period, Darren was running into problems at home because his parents didn’t approve of his drug use. One fight with his dad got so intense that Darren actually swung a knife at him. Today, Darren is thankful he missed. But the fight got so bad, that eventually, the cops were called. Darren tried to escape jumping over the fence in his backyard, but the cops grabbed ahold of him and put him in handcuffs.
Even after Darren had come at him with a knife, Darren’s father did not want to see his son go off to spend time at a juvenile detention facility. Darren’s mother felt differently.
Darren went, but after he was released, when he was in seventh grade, Darren was arrested for possession of marijuana. First, he got kicked out of school. Then, his parents kicked him out of the house. Darren was getting drunk and smoking weed with his friends on a daily basis.
Darren spent four years living on the streets.
Now, Darren says he has been clean for almost a year. He decided to return to school and is doing well. He says he is happy because now that he’s succeeding in school, he feels as if he is succeeding in life. Darren doesn’t think smoking weed is ‘cool’ anymore. He plans to finish high school and wants to attend college.
Weed Addiction Stories: Before and After
‘Ryan’ didn’t think he had a problem until…
“Then, one of those nights hit when I ran out of pot. I was climbing the walls. I went crazy. I called everyone I knew to score even a roach. I remember one night driving 39 miles in a bad storm to get a half a joint from a complete stranger just to get through the night. I remember calling my dealer every hour on the hour to see if it had come in yet. I bought pot from people I normally wouldn’t have even talked to, much less done business with. What had happened to me? I thought I was using because I wanted to. Now I found that I was using because I had to. I had become an addict!”
Ryan began to see the monotony of his everyday life: “Get up, go to work, come home and spend the rest of the evening stoned in front of the TV with a soda in one hand, a bag of chips in the other and the bong loaded and ready to go! This was the extent of my life, day in and day out for 13 years.”
He had had enough of the monotony, of getting nowhere and doing nothing with his life.
Ryan has been attending Marijuana Anonymous meetings for the past five years. He says the internal change he has experienced is indescribable. When he started being honest with himself about his use is when everything started to come together for him. He listened to his sponsor, attending meetings, followed the 12 steps, and even found comfort in a higher power to help him with his struggles.
“I have now been a part of Marijuana Anonymous for over 5 years as I am writing this. I can’t begin to describe all the changes that have happened to me because of this program. By being honest with myself and realizing I had a problem I was able to start on the road to recovery. I swallowed hard and reached out for help. I listened to the people who had walked this path of recovery ahead of me and followed their suggestions. I found a sponsor within a couple of months so I would have a person that could guide me through the Twelve Steps, as he understood them. I began my Steps and rediscovered my belief in a Higher Power. Over the years practicing the Twelve Steps, to the best of my ability, I have started to receive the greatest gift of all, a belief in myself!
“I can honestly say today that I have a good life. Each day will always have its ups and downs and that I have no control over, but it is my attitude towards these times that will determine how I feel about life. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I find that most problems don’t get to me half as much as they used to. I now know that if I use or get angry that the problem will still be there. The only way to get through the problem is to deal with it, not avoid it!
“These [attitude changes] didn’t happen overnight, and I know that I have a long way to go. I now know that because of the Twelve Steps I have a chance to reach the goals I had always just dreamed of.”
Treatment didn’t work for ‘Kevin’ the first time around
“Soon after [my parents found all the weed I was hiding in my room], I was caught shoplifting. My mom and dad came and picked me up. Another slap on the wrist. I stopped getting high for about two months, but when I started again, it was like I never stopped.
“My home life was awful. I was in a constant battle with my parents and my little brother was being hurt as a result of my selfishness. I thought I was the only person in the whole world.
“Street prices of weed are affordable, so I was using every day when everything finally hit the fan. My dad broke my guitars, so I ran away. I was caught one week later in Santa Barbara. I vowed never to use again. I told my parents that I had a problem, and I needed help. I came into MA (Marijuana Anonymous) a week later.
“Since then, I haven’t smoked pot once. I have noticed a vast improvement in my life, and it can only get better. So, if you are new, the best advice I can give you is read the literature, get a sponsor, and take a commitment. But more importantly, KEEP COMING BACK, because your life is still worth living.”
‘Mikey’ escaped a jail sentence by entering into treatment
“I’m pretty sure the first time I smoked weed I was 11. A close family member used to do heroin and crack, so I saw that as a kid, and I always thought, ‘My drug use isn’t serious, I’m only smoking weed.’ But while I was doing that I got involved with the wrong crowd, and everybody smoked weed, and it started taking me away from the important things in life. I started stealing stuff and selling drugs on the streets. I actually got jumped a lot of times; people tried to rob me for the drugs I had. They were people I used to know as friends, but the drugs had turned them around. With all of that going on, it wasn’t long before I was facing gun charges and jail.”
Luckily, the judge let Mikey enter into a treatment facility. He spent nine months there. During the treatment process, Mikey developed a strong support network. “We connect on Facebook, send each other messages, check in and see how each other are doing.”
Mikey earned his GED while in treatment.
“When I completed treatment and came home, all the things they taught me at [the treatment facility I attended] made me realize that the way I was living life before was stupid. I mean, I could have been doing so many productive things instead of sitting around, waiting for somebody to call so we could smoke a blunt! So I finally had a chance to be productive.
Mikey is now about to start college. He’s going to be studying radiology.
“I’ll be honest, some of my friends still smoke, but they’re cool with my recovery. Some of my other friends from before are nothing but trouble, and I don’t hang out with them anymore. Now I spend most of my time in class, working, or at home helping my family. I was working for a delivery company but now I’m focusing on school, taking college prep classes so that when I start school in January I’m not rusty. I actually like school now!
“I live with my mother, my stepfather, my little brother, and my little sister. My older sister comes to visit sometimes with her baby. I don’t know exactly what they all think about what I’ve been through, but I can tell my mom is more calm now. She knows she doesn’t have to worry—that if she gives me money for food I won’t spend it on weed. There’s more trust and a huge sense of relief. I know I did the right thing in going to treatment, and that everything is working out for the best. Now I’m doing better than most of the people who used to look down on me.
“So many people think marijuana can’t be an addiction, but it can. Because when you smoke weed like I did, and you feel like you can’t have fun without smoking, that’s you depending on weed to have fun. And dependence on a drug, that’s addiction. My advice to other kids in treatment is: stick to it, you can do it! It’s not easy because when you’re in a residential program you have to be away from the people you love. But treatment helps you realize how important those people are, and it brings you closer to them in the long run—and that’s what matters at the end of the day. I mean, yeah, you should definitely get clean for yourself. But if that’s not enough of a motivator, get clean for those who love you.”
Jake was always playing catch-up due to his weed addiction
Jake had never really experimented with drugs until his junior year when a good portion of his classmates began smoking weed. He got curious about it, so he did some internet research on marijuana. Everything he found online and everything his friends told him about weed made it seem like it wasn’t all that dangerous. So he tried it.
“It was intense…I knew I had found the best toy I had ever had in my life. It beat cake, sex, tv, video games, etc. etc. etc.”
“By mid-summer, I was dumping out trash cans with ashes at the bottom so I could pick through and make a pile of charred green that I could smoke. For the next two years, my life fluctuated between weeks of being high and weeks of being clean, trying to make up for late homework and ignored relationships.”
As time went on, more of Jake’s time was spent high than not. There were times when he became severely depressed when he was smoking, to the point of suicidal ideation; he had multiple plans to kill himself, but always ended up getting high again before he could actually go through with it.
Jake started stealing money from whoever he could—his mom, his girlfriend—just to fund his marijuana addiction. Eventually, Jake’s mom caught on and she gave him an ultimatum: treatment or police involvement.
He’s been clean ever since with the help of AA meetings.
“Anyway, in the last three months of my use, I had been stealing whatever amount of money I thought I could get away with to buy my weed. Eventually, my mom caught onto the fact that I was not only stealing from my family but my girlfriend too (I stole from whoever gave me the opportunity). Fearing for my legal status she gave me an ultimatum, treatment or cops. I chose treatment and have been clean since (with the help of AA).
“Had I known of the devastating effects weed would have on me I would have never taken that first hit. I had no idea of the destructive potential of weed. I don’t know what effect just one site with legitimate information on marijuana would have but it might start to change the perception that marijuana is not really addictive.
“Throughout my experience, I had doubts as to whether or not I was addicted. The more valid information out there, the better an individual’s chances are of coming to an understanding that they need help. An addict who stops using saves themselves and everyone around them pain. The lack of info about the addictive potential of marijuana only feeds the vacuum of ignorance that sucks people deeper and deeper into addiction.”
- Rooke S. E., Norberg M. M., Copeland J. Successful and unsuccessful cannabis quitters: comparing group characteristics and quitting strategies. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. 2011; 6:30. doi:10.1186/1747-597X-6-30. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229433/.
- national Institute on Drug Abuse. Quitting marijuana: "I need different people around me." https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/quitting-marijuana-i-need-different-people-around-me.