Signs of Marijuana Addiction and Abuse

man addicted to smoking marijuana

There are times when it feels like marijuana use is all around us. For decades, content creators from authors to screenwriters, television producers to social media influencers, have glorified the drug on the grandest of stages. Marijuana use has become commonplace in our society, an evolution at least partly fueled by its legal status in many different U.S. states. But what a lot of marijuana users have come to realize is that despite the portrayal on screen, marijuana use can lead to addiction, abuse, and a variety of serious health concerns.

To provide some context around the gravity of marijuana addiction and abuse — also known as marijuana use disorder — we wanted to explore some of the more probing questions that a person abusing marijuana may be wondering.

How Prevalent is Marijuana Addiction and Abuse?

If you think you may be addicted to marijuana or abusing the substance, the first thing you must know is you aren’t alone. In fact, marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the country. In 2019 alone, nearly 20% of all Americans admitted to using marijuana. Still, we should clarify that not every person who uses marijuana will become addicted, but the percentage of those who do might surprise you.

Research shows that 3 in 10 people who use marijuana have already developed marijuana use disorder — and that number increases for people who begin using in adolescence. Citing another stat from 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that 4 in 10 high school students reported using marijuana at some point in their lives. Worse, the drug is seemingly readily available to young people, with one-third of 8th graders, about 60% of 10th graders, and more than 75% of 12th graders disclosing that obtaining the drug would be “fairly easy” or “very easy.”

What Happens to the Body During Marijuana Addiction and Abuse?

Though there are certainly people who use marijuana as prescribed by a healthcare practitioner for ailments like pain and anxiety, the majority of people who use the drug are doing so to get high. That carefree feeling of euphoria is perhaps the most well-known outcome of marijuana use, but there are a variety of both short- and long-term adverse effects associated with marijuana addiction and abuse.

Though addiction and abuse often develop simultaneously and in tandem, there is a difference between the two. Addiction is marked by the inability to stop using and the lengths one will go to in order to satisfy the craving, while abuse is related to how much someone is using (both in frequency and amount).

In both cases, the primary trigger prompting continued use occurs when tolerance for the drug is developed. As tolerance grows, users must consume more of the drug than before to achieve the same euphoric high they once felt. To scratch that itch, some users transition from smoking marijuana to different mechanisms that support higher potency, like edibles.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. When consumed, THC stimulates the brain’s reward system and generates the release of dopamine, known more casually as the pleasure hormone. Unfortunately, studies show that people who misuse marijuana have a decreased response to dopamine. Not only does that correlate with addiction-related dependence and the need to use more to reach the same outcome, but dopamine imbalances can lead to irritability, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Additionally, studies show that heavy long-term marijuana use is linked to a decline in IQ, chronic bronchitis-like symptoms, a heightened risk of respiratory infections, increased heart rate, and more.

What Are the Signs of Marijuana Addiction and Abuse?

Now that we’ve talked through some of the ways marijuana abuse and addiction can affect the body, let’s examine a few signs and symptoms that a disorder might be in play. Clues indicating marijuana addiction and abuse can be broken down into three different categories: physical, psychological, and behavioral.

Physically, it’s not uncommon for someone who is either addicted to or abusing marijuana to have red, bloodshot eyes. In addition, they may appear excessively lethargic, lack balance and coordination, have an unusually robust appetite, and suffer from dry mouth.

When it comes to psychological signs, this person may struggle to focus on the task at hand and exhibit poor judgment and a delayed response to questions. Dramatic mood swings, agitation, irritability, and paranoia are often present in people battling marijuana addiction and abuse.

Someone addicted to marijuana will also suffer from withdrawal if they attempt to stop using. This is the body’s physiological response to suddenly quitting the drug, which can result in a number of uncomfortable side effects, including muscle aches, sweating, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.

On the behavioral front, we already touched on one of the most significant signs earlier. A person addicted to marijuana (or any drug, for that matter) will do whatever is needed to secure their next fix. This can include manipulation, lying, and stealing. Someone with a marijuana use disorder may also have frequent and unexplained absences from commitments like school or work, purchase marijuana paraphernalia regularly, lose interest in the hobbies and activities that once excited them, and continue to use in spite of any either perceived or real repercussions.

How Do You Treat Marijuana Addiction and Abuse?

The most effective way to address marijuana addiction and abuse is with the help of trained and qualified practitioners. This process includes undergoing detox, ideally in a facility staffed with healthcare professionals to ensure severe symptoms are managed properly, before transitioning to a treatment plan.

Treatment plans for marijuana addiction and abuse like the ones we offer at Midwest Recovery Centers will attempt to identify and address the root problem of why the person is using marijuana in the first place. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, depending on need, with foundational elements like cognitive behavioral therapy and 12-step group programs helping to lead patients down the path to recovery.

If you or a loved one are suffering from marijuana addiction and abuse, we can help. Contact us today.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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