On this blog, we often get comments from people claiming that marijuana isn’t addictive. A lot of people seem to think marijuana is different from other drugs. Unfortunately, it’s not the case: Just like with other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), you can get addicted to marijuana—especially if you use it during your teen years.
Dependence vs. Addiction
Dependence means needing a drug to feel physically okay. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are addicted—for example, many people can be dependent on a prescribed medication without being addicted. The difference is that people that are addicted start to think about the drug all the time and make it a higher priority than other things in their life; they often make bad decisions that work against their health and their overall well-being. In the case of a medication, they may start to abuse it (using it differently than how the doctor has prescribed) by taking more of it or crushing it and injecting it. Or in the case of a drug like marijuana, they will be unable to stop using it even though it is causing problems with school, jobs, or relationships. People with addictions are often unable to see—or admit—that this is happening.
One part (but not the only part) of being addicted to a drug is needing the drug to feel physically okay—a condition that is called dependence (see box, “Dependence vs. Addiction”). A person with dependence feels bad when they don’t have the drug, and having enough of a supply is always important to them.
That Bad Feeling …
… is called withdrawal. It’s what leads a lot of people who are addicted to a drug to relapse—meaning, they have tried to quit, but start taking the drug again.
A new study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine shows that teens who use marijuana heavily can experience withdrawal when they stop using it. In a study of teens receiving drug abuse treatment at an outpatient clinic, nearly half of them (40 percent) experienced symptoms of withdrawal when they stopped using marijuana.
Not Just a Crummy Day
From portrayals in movies and on TV of people addicted to heroin, people have an image of drug withdrawal as sweating, shaking, and being curled up in bed with unbearable pain. Marijuana withdrawal is a lot more subtle, but every bit as real.
The main mental symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include:
- Being irritable
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Feeling depressed
- Being restless
- Having trouble sleeping at night and feeling tired during the day
- Having low appetite or losing weight
Some people having marijuana withdrawal might not realize it. Some of the symptoms just contribute to being in a lousy mood, and it’s often easy to blame that feeling on other people annoying you or just having a bad day. You can also have physical symptoms like:
- Stomach pain
The longer a person uses marijuana, the more likely they are to have withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using it. And teen users who suffer marijuana withdrawal are more likely to experience marijuana addiction than adults. One in six teens who try marijuana will get addicted to it, and that goes up to as many as one-half of teens who use it every day.
In the Journal of Addiction Medicine study, teens who had marijuana withdrawal symptoms were more likely than other marijuana users to have problems like difficulties at school or at work or trouble with relationships or money. They were also more likely to have other signs of marijuana dependence and mood disorders like depression.
If you’re worried you may have a problem with marijuana or any other drug, this page may help answer your questions and let you know what to do to get help.
Tell us in comments: Do you know any regular marijuana users who stop using marijuana and experience the withdrawal symptoms described in this post?