The Remarkable Truth About Marijuana Addiction
Addiction is a real concern for anyone using drugs (prescription or otherwise). In our fast-paced modern society, it’s common for people to develop a dependency to substances that make our lives easier. This isn’t breaking news- as of 2010, an estimated 23.5 million Americans were addicted to alcohol or drugs. With nearly 1 out of 10 adults suffering from addiction, it’s difficult to determine what causes the condition. Marijuana users are often concerned about developing dependence, but studies show that cannabis is less addictive than caffeine, with far less withdrawal symptoms. Is it possible that the American lifestyle, not drugs, is responsible for the epidemic of addiction in this country?
It’s time for Americans to accept the hard truth: you can be addicted to anything. This doesn’t mean that you develop a physical dependence- addiction is a mental condition associated with psychological need. This psychological craving for a substance can occur under any circumstances. Physical dependence, however, is caused by a chemical change in the body, resulting in withdrawal when drug use is stopped. This difference between psychological and physical dependence makes it incredibly difficult for scientists to measure the true addictive potential of any drug. Still, they try.
An estimated 9% of marijuana users become addicted. Compare this to the estimated 75% of regular caffeine users and 23% of heroin users who become addicted. Caffeine is available to everyone- including children and teens. Many prescription pain medications are opiates, derived from the same source as heroin, the poppy plant and highly addictive. These drugs are readily available to most Americans, so why are we surprised that addiction is such a problem in this country? Why do politicians and media representatives insist on pointing a finger at marijuana? In reality, cannabis is one of the least addictive drugs on the market and it has no risk of lethal overdose.
Too many people still associate addiction with criminal activity and drug abuse. Instead of treating addiction as a disease, Americans choose to imprison drug users and ignore socially acceptable addictions like caffeine and nicotine. Those seeking help have very few options. If they prefer not to attend AA or NA meetings, private counseling can be very expensive. Alcohol addiction is frequently kept secret and doctors often fail to monitor patients using prescription painkillers. Americans are sending a dangerous message: It’s okay to be addicted, as long as you’re addicted to the right things- if you’re not, you belong in jail.
This thoroughly western perspective on addiction is the reason 50% of federal prisoners and 53% of state prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related offenses. The CDC estimates that 18% of Americans smoke cigarettes and 85% use caffeine on a daily basis. We spend over $90 billion each year on alcohol and have approximately 17.6 million alcoholics nationwide. The problem in our country isn’t drugs, it’s addiction, and we’re doing a terrible job of treating it.
In 2001, the Portuguese government decided that their war on drugs wasn’t working. Instead of cracking down even harder on drug users, they decided to end the war completely by decriminalizing all drugs. Today, there is almost no penalty for drug use or possession in Portugal and 14 years after legalization, drug rates in the country have dropped drastically– especially among the 15-24 year old age group. Instead of punishing drug users, they’ve decided to treat addiction and teach citizens about responsible drug use. America is highly unlikely to decriminalize all drugs, but relaxing the laws and providing low-cost care to those who need it might make a world of difference.
Marijuana addiction is a tiny problem when compared with other addictions in America. The real problem is a lack of support for those suffering from dependence on both legal and illegal substances. It’s time for America to stop shouting about drugs and start treating addicts as people instead of criminals. If you’re concerned that you might be addicted to marijuana or any other drug, seek help from your doctor or health care provider. If you’re worried about using medical cannabis because of addiction, don’t be. Marijuana is one of the safest drugs available today. We can only hope that it will soon be available to all Americans as an alternative to more dangerous, potentially lethal treatments.