Q: My friend smokes pot a lot in college. When I confronted him, he said that it is not addictive. I am worried about him. What do I do?
A: This is a great question and one I hear often. Clients say, “I smoke weed every night, but weed is not addictive.”
For some, that is true: Marijuana is not addictive. They can smoke and not care whether they ever smoke again or quit smoking and not be bothered by it.
However, that’s not the case for everyone. For many, marijuana poses a substantial risk of addiction. Many people have admitted that although they might not be physically addicted to marijuana, they are psychologically addicted.
A client once told me, “If I need to eat, sleep, relax, be amused, calm down, forget a horrible experience, practice self-love, run errands of any kind, watch TV or create something, I smoke.”
Truthfully, I have heard it all. Some people argue that because marijuana does not have dramatic withdrawal symptoms like alcohol or heroin, it is not addictive. However, there are two errors to this thinking.
First, the THC in marijuana today is more than two times stronger than what it was 20 years ago. THC can affect someone’s brain drastically. I have seen many clients who have developed high anxiety and severe depression from smoking pot and from withdrawing from it.
Because of the increased THC potency, mental distress, panic attacks and other problems have increased. In 2011, nearly half a million visits to ERs were related to problems with marijuana use, and that number has almost doubled today.
Once the marijuana is completely out of the patient’s system, the anxiety and depression decrease substantially.
The other error is the belief that there are no withdrawal symptoms. There ARE withdrawal symptoms.
When a chronic user stops using cannabis, he or she can experience irritability, insomnia, headache, loss of appetite, mood swings, anxiety, depression and, of course, cravings for the drug.
Pay attention to your friend’s behavior.
If he has a good time only if he is high or if there is pot around, that is a problem.
If he refuses to quit and cannot go a day without smoking, that is a problem.
If his grades, social life and moods change, that is a problem.
Different drugs have different effects on the brain and body, but, in nearly all cases, repeated drug use will lead to addictive behavior.
What can you do? If you are worried, the immediate thing you can do is offer support. Talk to your friend and let him know you are concerned and are there for him. Encourage him to seek help from a therapist or call for an evaluation.
You also can talk to me, and together we can figure out how to find professionals who can get your friend healthy again. You can be a positive influence.
For individuals and families struggling with addiction and mental health illness, The Berman Center (www.bermancenteratl.com) is the treatment, recovery and personal advancement resource to help people move from existing to living through an individualized, spiritually holistic approach, best-in-class clinical excellence, and exceptional post-treatment community integration programs. Finding hope, igniting purpose. For more tips on how to approach the above types of situations or answers to your questions about drugs, call The Berman Center at 770-336-7444, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.