When many people hear the word ‘addiction’, the images that spring to mind often involve shady transactions in dark alleyways, unkempt criminals roaming the streets looking for a fix, or gutters strewn with discarded needles or crack vials.
While these notions do have some basis in fact for a small minority of hard-drug addicts, the bulk of those with dependency issues don’t fit the stereotypical mold.
These days, marijuana is seldom viewed as an addictive drug. However, addiction is not so cut-and-dry in its manifestation. It seems that, when marijuana is talked about, one stereotype is often used to suppress another.
They go to work or school, do their best to support their families, and, for the most part, manage to avoid involvement with the law. This is especially true for those dealing with marijuana addiction; a problem that commonly goes unnoticed not only by those close to the users, but just as often by the users themselves. Marijuana dependency has a different look and feel than that associated with most drugs of abuse, but it can be very real, and for many, very damaging in terms of mental health, happiness, and overall life satisfaction.
Functional Marijuana Addiction
Ever heard of a “functioning alcoholic?” The concept is similar, and in fact, a good chunk – still the minority, mind you – of marijuana users do show characteristics typical of addiction. Habitual use of pot can damage mental health, happiness, and overall satisfaction in life.
One addict's story tells the tale of a heavy consumer who ended up facing difficult physical and mental symptoms related to cannabis withdrawal. But many users – perhaps most – report few, if any, significant problems immediately following cessation. Ironically, it’s this very lack of obvious detrimental effects upon discontinuation that can pose the greatest risk to those trying to quit.
And yes, withdrawal symptoms do occur, and it is because they are so subtle that they present their own unique dangers. Users may know that they are anxious or depressed but are unlikely to link those issues to their marijuana use—especially since these symptoms often hold off for several weeks, after which the system becomes free of cannabinoids.
The truth is that, after long periods of smoking pot, sober life can feel boring and empty, similar to how a video game addict feels once their parents take the Xbox away. Marijuana addiction won't kill you or wreck your life. Yet it can hold you back, mask and exacerbate underlying mental health issues, and make users accustomed to their experiences and sense of reward being amplified to otherwise-unobtainable levels.
And for heavy marijuana users who do try to quit, the relapse rate is 70 percent—on par with “harder” drugs, like cocaine.
Because marijuana is so massively popular, the science behind it is at least relatively understood by the general public. Mostly, though, this knowledge relates to the high. What less people understand is the effect cannabinoids have on our bodies and brains following that high. When it comes to that, marijuana is unique in many ways. For example: The more frequent the user, the longer withdrawal symptoms actually take to kick in, since there are more cannabinoid reserves in their blood. As these reserves trickle away throughout detox, many pot users complain of the common cold or some other moderate illness. Once those reserves are exhausted, the body adjusts rather quickly (appetite returns to normal within days), and the problems become psychological, relationships with friends and family suffer, and marijuana becomes more and more tempting as a coping mechanism.
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