Stress, Genetics and Social Learning All Influence Risk of Marijuana Addiction

The growing trend toward legalization and deregulation of marijuana in the U.S. has policymakers, health workers and the general public asking some questions. People want to know how marijuana use could impact the community and whether it’s addictive. 

The safety of using marijuana is still the subject of countless research efforts. Health officials warn that the use of marijuana is associated with episodes of psychosis and impaired cognitive abilities. Proponents of marijuana legalization provide anecdotal reasons that they believe marijuana is safe, though no research supports the safe use of marijuana.

Addiction to marijuana is not as common as addiction to some other drugs, but it does occur. An article posted on Healthline discusses rates of marijuana addiction and highlights several risk factors for developing addiction.

The article notes that it’s difficult to quantify marijuana addiction, though estimates suggest that around 20 percent of users are dependent. More than 340,000 users were admitted to hospitals and clinics for substance abuse treatment in 2010, which represents a small fraction of the number of marijuana users.

Genetics appears to play a role in addiction risk. In twin studies, researchers found that identical twins raised in different families had higher rates of addiction co-occurring when compared with fraternal twins raised in different families.

However, family background may also help a person avoid addiction. Personal skills learned within in the family construct, such as taking responsibility and tempering emotional reactions, can help a person avoid addiction and behavior patterns that lead to addiction. A healthy family setting can also help a person make connections with their community and a social network, lessening the risk of developing addiction.

Mental and emotional disorders are another significant risk factor for marijuana addiction. Individuals struggling with these disorders sometimes use marijuana to relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression, for example.

However, when tolerance is built up against a drug like marijuana, an individual with a mental disorder may keep increasing the amount used in order to achieve the same effect. Not only does the person have to use more and more marijuana, but the fallout is worse every time the drug wears off and the anxiety or depression sets back in. The article estimates that at least half of all marijuana users who seek treatment have an underlying mental health issue.

Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or simply high levels of stress sometimes use marijuana as a way to combat the anxiety, depression and effects of insomnia that affect them. They may initially experience relief with a small amount of marijuana and then gradually require increased amounts to experience the same relief.

One hallmark of addiction is the compulsive desire to obtain the substance. Addicted individuals will often allow relationships, employment and other responsibilities to deteriorate in the pursuit of an opportunity to use the substance.

Posted on August 13th, 2014
Posted in Marijuana

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