Does Your Teen Have a Problem with Marijuana?

Does Your Teen Have a Problem with Marijuana?

As a couple and family therapist with extensive experience in addiction I find myself engaging with parents more and more about the concerns they have with their teen’s marijuana use. Just the other day I had a conversation with my barber about her sixteen-year-old getting caught at school smoking pot. She talked my ear off for the duration of the haircut. Like many of my colleagues, I am not generally into revealing what I do as a job in places that are tough to leave once I sit down. Often it results in being asked advice or I am stuck listening to a long narrative of problems where in my current circumstance I am unable to be helpful.

person holding a joint

The overwhelming concern from parents makes complete sense to me as the national conversation on marijuana has shifted significantly in the past decade from stigma as a schedule 1 drug to wide support for national legalization which according to Pew Research sits at about 62 percent. Currently marijuana is federally outlawed both recreationally and medicinally. Marijuana also continues to be illegal for all individuals under the age of 21. If I were in my barbers’ shoes, I would be just as concerned about her child.

The Research

Unfortunately, marijuana use among teens appears to be increasing. The American Psychological Association (APA) has reported that sixteen percent of eighth-graders say they’ve used marijuana in the past year — up from 14.5 percent in 2009, according to their “Monitoring the Future” survey, an annual study of substance use among a nationally representative sample of 42,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This trend, in combination with a similar uptick in marijuana use among high school students, should be a major cause of concern for parents and educators.

A concern that I am constantly addressing with parents is the difference between marijuana use and marijuana abuse. On average I smoked weed during my freshman and sophomore years of college about 1-2 times a week when it was available. I stopped smoking during the summer of 2002. Why did I stop? I quit my job to focus solely on school and did not have the money to buy it. For many who have dabbled in marijuana use, it is a social activity that is engaged in for a period of time and then the need goes away. Marijuana abuse can look and feel very different.

Approximately 10 percent of people who use marijuana may develop what is called a marijuana use disorder—causing problems with their health, school, friendships, family or other conflicts in their life. A serious substance use disorder is commonly called an addiction. The person can’t stop using marijuana even though it gets in the way of daily life. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are 4–7 times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.

Many in the U.S., me being one of them, have recently seen legalization as the primary cause of this increase in marijuana use among teens. However, research suggests that while marijuana policy liberalization over the past 20 years has certainly been associated with increased marijuana use, policy changes appear to have occurred in response to changing attitudes within those states. Medical and recreational marijuana policies did not have any significant association with increased marijuana use. I found this result surprising and it helped to expand my view in what I understand about marijuana use among young people.

Does Your Teen Have a Problem?

I just want to reiterate that this article is about identifying and treating marijuana abuse. Just because you caught your teen for the first time sneaking in fifteen minutes past their curfew with bloodshot eyes does not mean that their use rises to the level of an addiction. The challenge is that like alcohol, marijuana abuse is not easy to recognize. Here are some questions I find helpful for parents to reflect on:

Has your teens marijuana use caused physical, emotional, financial or legal problems in his or her life? Physical dependence could manifest in symptoms like:

• night sweats
• headaches
• dizziness
• loss of appetite
• insomnia
• stomach issues
• cravings to use marijuana
• chills

Emotional difficulties are also often present. Parents be on the lookout for changes in levels of:

• isolation
• depression
• anxiety
• anger
• distraction
• defensiveness
• irritability

Finally, it is not uncommon for teens who abuse marijuana to find themselves in financial or legal trouble. Marijuana possession, DUI’s, DWI’s, and the costs associated are examples of problematic behavior that indicate a substance abuse issue. The primary question I ask all of my clients who use drugs and alcohol is: In what ways does your substance use negatively impact your relationships at home and at work? I want to better understand a client’s decision making in the relationships that are most important to them.

The good news is you can watch addictions in their early stages. By remaining proactive about your child’s marijuana use, you can ensure exposure to recovery at an early age, increasing the chances of long-term sobriety. So, talk to your children about the realities of marijuana use! Start talking to them well before they become teenagers! If you are unsure about the best way to go about it, give your friendly neighborhood San Diego marijuana therapist a call. Mental health practitioners can be helpful in creating a safe space to have difficult conversations around marijuana abuse. Often teens have no desire to converse with their parents and need a wider net of support to quit. That’s completely normal! Hang in there! You are not alone.