Is Marijuana Really Addictive?

As marijuana use becomes legal in more states – for both medical and recreational purposes -problems with the drug grow more common. Around 30 percent of people who use marijuana develop a dependence or addiction to the drug, and the problem is more serious for teens who regularly use the drug.[1]

For some people, marijuana is addictive similarly to other mind-altering substances, like alcohol or cocaine. But not everyone who uses the drugs becomes addicted. Researchers don’t yet understand why some people become addicted and others continue casual, recreational use without developing addiction. It may involve how much or how often marijuana is used, or genetics may determine how a person’s brain and body respond. Either way, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana dependency and marijuana addiction continues to rise every year.[2]

Recent statistics show marijuana use is growing. The drug is second to alcohol in abuse rates with 4.2 million meeting the standard for abuse or dependence. Beliefs about the danger of marijuana use vary across the country. As more states change laws relating to marijuana, health experts want to increase education about the dangers of using the drug. Babies, children and adolescents are most vulnerable to the drug, which can change the structure of developing brains.[3]

Building a Tolerance

Most people who regularly use marijuana develop a dependence on the drug without developing an addiction. When a drug user finds he must use more and more of a drug just to get the same high, he has developed a tolerance. Frequent marijuana use increases a person’s risk of developing a tolerance, which requires him to take larger and larger amounts of marijuana to achieve the same high. People who are tolerant to the drug also may experience uncomfortable marijuana withdrawal symptoms when it is not present in the same amount. Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and weight loss.[4]

An Addictive Nature

Recent studies show changes in the brain from marijuana use affect adolescents much more than adults.People who use marijuana regularly in their teens are more likely to experience long-term memory deficits, drops in IQ and trouble controlling their impulses.[5] While the effects of smoking marijuana are subtle and almost never life threatening, some people adjust to regular use and find it difficult to quit all at once.

While not all marijuana users are physically addicted, psychological addiction occurs frequently. Users get high because it makes them feel good, without it, they can feel edgy, irritated or annoyed.2

Social dependence is another compulsive behavior associated with marijuana use. Some people feel they must use marijuana when their friends use it. Others feel marijuana is necessary to loosen up in social situations. All of these factors indicate a personmay struggle with overwhelming cravings when he decides to quit.

Treatments

For most users, marijuana detox is uncomfortable but easily managed with supportive therapy.Symptoms such as trouble sleeping and extreme irritability fade in days or weeks. The most important part of marijuana addiction treatment is talk therapy. Through evidence based cognitive behavioral counseling patients learn new skills, such as replacing free time with enjoyable hobbies and fighting cravings with positive thinking strategies.

An addiction treatment center like The Canyon ensures patients get the help they need by offering the following interventions:

  • Assess the type and nature of each patient’s substance use
  • Provide psychiatric evaluations to uncover any co-occurring disorders
  • Combine behavioral, cognitive and psychodynamic therapies
  • Balance individual and group therapy sessions
  • Involve family therapy where appropriate
  • Establish a positive support network
  • Introduce 12-step recovery methods for staying clean

Since many people addicted to marijuana also have co-occurring mental health problems, it’s important for treatment centers to screen for all conditions. The Canyon specializes in treating co-occurring conditions, a practice that gives people better success at sobriety because it treats all of a person’s symptoms.

The Canyon

The Canyon is a licensed residential chemical dependency treatment facility that specializes in treating adults with co-occurring substance use and mental health issues. Each patient’s treatment follows a plan developed by a master’s level therapist. Through a variety of traditional and non-traditional therapies, patients reclaim personal dreams and improve quality of life. If you have any questions about the addictive nature of marijuana or treatment for marijuana addiction, give us a call at The Canyon today.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Is marijuana addictive? Retrieved Jan. 9, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-addictive.

[2] Barclay, R. Sam. (2016). Marijuana Addiction Is Rare, but Very Real. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2017 from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/marijuana-addiction-rare-but-real-072014#1.

[3] Hughes, Arthur; Lipari, Rachel N.; & Williams, Matthew R. (2016). Marijuana Use and Perceived Risk of Harm from Marijuana Use Varies Within and Across States. The Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality Report: National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2404/ShortReport-2404.html.

[4] Laino, Charlene. (2008). Withdrawal Symptoms From Smoking Pot? WebMD Health News. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2017 from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20080507/withdrawal-symptoms-from-smoking-pot.

[5] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain? Marijuana: Research Report Studies. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-use-affect-your-brain-body.

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