Teen Drug Abuse: What's the Big Deal?

Teen Drug Abuse: What’s the Big Deal?

It’s no secret that the society we live it has drastically changed its opinion on marijuana over the past twenty years or so. The shift is influencing how our teens view the drug as well. But, is smoking marijuana safe for teenagers?

As a counselor, it is not unusual to hear my teenage clients make statements such as, “Marijuana is alright to use because it’s organic.” Or to hear them say pot cures cancer.

It’s also no secret that telling a young person what not to do, often results in the opposite being accomplished, I attempt to counsel them in a manner that is conducive to them making their own good choice rather than giving them instructions outright.

Once, a teen told me research proved that marijuana wasn’t harmful to young people. So, I requested that he bring in the research article. He later admitted the source wasn’t an article. It was a friend of his.

I proceeded to give the young man research articles which pointed out the risks associated with marijuana use and teens. He was not on the defensive because I had used a different approach with him so he was more open to hearing what I had to say.

When the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) conducted a survey, about 1 teen in 14 had used marijuana the prior month. A good number of teenagers feel that it is alright to use marijuana because it is organic and natural. Some think it is okay, whether it is illegal or not. Four million people in the US who were 12 and over had an abuse issue with marijuana in 2016. Research proves that marijuana does have the ability to harm the still developing brain of young people.

It is also a fact that marijuana certainly can be a source of addiction. Of course, not all who use it will become addicted to it. Becoming dependent happens when an individual isn’t able to control their use of any given substance and still continues to do it. Consequences do not stop an addict when practicing their addiction.

While harder drugs, like cocaine, tend to lead to big blow outs, like the tires of a car running at 90 miles-per-hour, marijuana is similar to a small, slow leak. It can be barely noticed. Over time, however, the tire begins to wear down. Such is true with marijuana issues. They may not surface as hard and fast as those associated with hard drug use. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist though.

Clearly, adolescence is a time of great upheaval and can be traumatic, filled with psychological turmoil. It’s a period when identity is being formed and defined. Teens struggle to find their individuality.

Often times, a huge amount of anxiety consumes a teen as he figures out how to fit in with his peers and he may be stressed out trying to work his values into the equation. During this turbulent time, if teens experiment with marijuana, they very well may feel as if they have found the perfect solution to all their problems and think it is the answer to their anxiety.

Being unaware that it is a problem in itself leads to other possible complications like denial. It is hard to get help when one does not admit or realize there is a negative issue with using it. That is why it often takes a while for marijuana users to get help if they are not intercepted by a parent or loved one.

Marijuana appears to be good when it comes to binding anxiety, it offers the false promise of stress-free living for teens. One of the main problems is that youngsters need some stress and anxiety in their lives to help them grow, emotionally. Coping skills are birthed from problems that kids learn to solve.

Life will pile on pressures but if a teen has not learned how to effectively deal with the stress those pressures cause, he is likely to cave because there is no personality structure to help him work through it all. That is how dependency sets in. Problem after problem, the teenager resorts to the only coping mechanism he has – marijuana. It offers an escape from reality and can quickly become a cycle that runs rampant.

While it is typical to think that hard drugs, like heroin or cocaine, would be much larger problems for an individual who is addicted to them, that’s not always necessarily the case. Because marijuana can be used for such a long time without many noticeable effects and has the tendency to ease anxiety rather than to create it (like amphetamines do), it can cause just as much or possibly more problems.

Furthermore, it greatly inhibits the development of coping skills (as mentioned above) which is a huge issue for teens who will soon be entering into adulthood and will be required to cope with a myriad of things life will throw their way.

For those who are heavy users, anxiety can go on for up to a year, even when not using. Maturity is delayed during this time which is something most teens cannot afford. It is imperative that the stages of growth are completed on time. None can be skipped which is a real possibility when marijuana use is part of the picture.

A number of functions are inhibited by marijuana. Driving is one of them. Since during the teen years, youngsters are learning to drive, this can be a problem. Delayed reactions are an area of concern. The lack of experience and delay in motor functions that marijuana use brings to the table is a dangerous scenario for the impaired driver and others on the road and in the car.

Marijuana lowers an individual’s ability to correctly function in academics as well. Marijuana causes memory and attention loss which can linger on for days after use because one of the main active ingredients is THC which is known for lowering concentration and memory as well and it’s fat soluble, meaning it takes a while to leave the system.

The loss of motivation is notorious for users of marijuana. It lowers anxiety which is, within reasonable quantities, something that naturally drives individuals to accomplish goes and press forward. For instance, a teen is often driven to complete homework because he doesn’t want to get a bad grade or be in trouble with his parents or teacher. If his level of concern is decreased, he is less likely to complete the task of doing his homework.

In a 2017 report, the NIDA stated that in comparison with teenagers who do not use, those students who did take part in using marijuana were less likely to complete high school. They were also less likely to acquire a degree in college. Because marijuana affects coordination, movement, and timing, their athletic abilities were also hindered making it a hindrance for athletes too.

Mental illness is yet another area that plays a factor in teens who use. They are at a high risk of having issues since it unlocks the potential for issues in that realm. Marijuana is classified as a hallucinogenic drug and therefore has the potential to alter the brain’s electrical activity that regulates perception.

Marijuana might be described as a drug that is used in the present and paid for in the future, like a line of credit. All of the consequences may not be experienced for years down the road. Sadly, however, they do catch up.

Like debt, issues and problems just keep piling up like a stack of bills that haven’t been paid. You can only ignore them for so long. Generally, it is in a time of chronic stress when the effects begin to surface.

Such an episode may lead to huge problems where mental health is concerned. Some forms of mental illness don’t just fade away. Some remain for the rest of one’s life. That is a heavy load for a teen to have to live with.

The NIDA reports that the use of marijuana is associated with a raised risk for such conditions as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. While it is unsure if using marijuana actually is the cause of the conditions, there’s a definite connection. The user’s age, the genes he possesses, and the frequency and amount of marijuana used are all contributing factors to be considered.

NIDA also reported these results:

Effects of short-term use, immediately following introduction to the body:

  • attention, memory, and learning problems
  • perception distortions (sights, time, touch, sounds)
  • poor coordination
  • an increase in heart rate
  • paranoia and anxiety
  • psychosis (rare)

Longer lasting effects can include:

  • memory and learning issues
  • problems with sleep

Longer-term effects (associated with repeated use):

  • marijuana addiction risks
  • lasting memory and learning issues when used excessively
  • the risk of bronchitis and chronic coughing
  • schizophrenia risk in those who have a high genetic vulnerability
  • severe nausea and vomiting (rare)

Is marijuana a gateway drug? Because most teens tend to try out marijuana and even alcohol and tobacco before experimenting with harder drugs, it is difficult to determine if there is a direct association with harder drug use as a direct result.

It is, however, plain to see that marijuana is easier to acquire than the harder drugs so perhaps that is why it is usually experimented with first. One who is smoking marijuana is more likely to hang out with people who use and sell harder drugs though so the chance of using them is increased.

Teenagers who discover that they are not able to stop using, even when it is their desire, might have a disorder or an addiction. When continued use causes problems yet it is still continued, addiction is likely a factor. Another sign is when it takes more of the drug to achieve the same high.

Marijuana treatment generally requires several simultaneous treatments because the addict who is in recovery may have a number of needs. Psychological education, group treatment, and individual counseling are usually all incorporated into the approaches.

There may be mental health issues that need to be addressed as well. A skilled counselor in the area of marijuana treatment can assess and determined what is right for your teen. The best plan is one that is tailor made for the teen and his or her given circumstances and needs.

Treatment for addiction is able to help an individual stop their drug use, rebuild the relationships they once had with friends and family, and restore the productivity they once enjoyed in society, at school, and at work. Counseling is best when sought sooner and not later when more damage has been done.

Summing it all up, marijuana isn’t the harmless, natural, organic substance that can do no harm that many people think it is. Especially when it comes to teens, using it regularly can undermine psychological developments and cognitive functions as well. The teen years are full of change and are the time for sorting things out and learning how to cope with oppositions. Marijuana stunts this growth.

A multitude of problems will have to be revisited if your teen is not able to learn skills of coping during the time he or she should be. Using marijuana to escape from the stress is not the answer. It only heaps on more problems. Getting help for your teen is the best step you can take. Intervention can help make a huge difference.

Scheduling a therapy appointment for your teenager to get proper teaching and education concerning their marijuana use and emotional support to help deal with their life stress points they might be attempting to escape from is imperative. Don’t let a small problem turn into a much bigger one. Take action today! We are here to help.

“What Ails You”, Courtesy of Wesley Gibbs, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Teen Smoker”, Courtesy of Ivandrei Pretorius, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Crazy High”, Courtesy of Ricardo Mancia, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Shooting Up”, Courtesy of VanveenJF, Unsplash.com, CC0 License


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