How do I know if someone is addicted to marijuana?

By Dana Byerly 04/02/14

After a long, stressful day, it's not uncommon for people to want something to help them forget about all the negativity and the overwhelming pressures of life. Understandably, they might want a little something to help take the edge off.  But that's also a common justification in most cases of addiction, particularly when dealing with marijuana abuse. 

Approximately 4.5 million people in the United States meet the clinical criteria for marijuana dependence – a number that’s second only to alcohol in recreational use.  Studies even show that usage starts in the preteens at a drastically high rate compared to other addictive drugs.    

Marijuana accounts for most adolescent drug treatment admissions and progressively smaller proportions of admissions in each successive higher age group.

A study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health claims that more than 95 million Americans ages 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once, and users younger than 18 have increased exponentially since the 1960s.  Many believe the driving force behind this increase is the greater levels of THC and mixing of drugs that occurs during production, but the simple fact is the longer someone uses marijuana on a habitual basis, the more likely they are to become dependent from a behavioral standpoint.

Addiction to marijuana is different from other drugs such as cocaine and heroin because it’s viewed as an emotional addiction rather than a physical one.  People are addicted to the act of consuming the drug, not the physical dependence on the chemicals.  Most users who are dependent on marijuana view themselves as having no ability to stop, and many experience withdrawals when trying to quit.  Because of this, marijuana is also generally considered a cross addiction drug, meaning that it often leads to other addictions or is used as a “lesser evil” due to its more moderate effects on the body.  

The effects on the brain, however, are much more significant.  Studies show that marijuana users are four times more likely to develop depression, with women as high as five times more likely.  

The American Psychiatric Association classifies a user as having an addiction when they demonstrate three of any of the following behaviors:  

  • A destructive pattern of use that can lead to significant social, occupational or medical impairment
  • The need for gradually increased amounts of marijuana to achieve the desired effect
  • Diminished effects with continued use of the same amount of drug 
  • Persistent, unsuccessful attempts to quit or control use
  • A majority of time spent in activities related to the use of, or recovery from, the use of marijuana 
  • Social, occupational, recreational or relational activities given up for the sake of marijuana  
  • Continued marijuana use despite knowledge of recurrent physical or psychological problems related to its use.


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Dana Byerly is on staff at The Fix, and has written for the San Antonio Express-News and The Oklahoman among others. She last wrote about federal classification of marijuana. She can be found on Twitter.