Young People and Addiction

By Africa Jackson 02/12/17

The scary thing about addiction in young people is that our bodies are going through so many transitions, it’s difficult to recognize warning signs.

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You Can Get Addicted to Anything
You think "he couldn't be an addict—it's marijuana!"

You can get addicted to anything—including weed.

I know what you’re thinking. Marijuana has all these medical and mental health benefits. No one ever died from an overdose of weed. Chronic saved my friend’s life. The list of arguments is infinite, but trust me—under the right conditions, a person can get addicted to weed.

Being young and being impatient go together like peanut butter and jelly. We want to know/do everything and many of us feel invincible. At least half of all youth have tried an illegal substance. I couldn’t wait to get married to the love of my life when I was younger. My only gripe was that he smoked weed. I smoked once in the eighth grade, but I was grossed out when one of the people in the circle coughed right before taking a huge toke. That turned me off. It wasn’t until I met this guy who I really love spending time with, that I considered smoking weed again.

I don’t remember a full week without him smoking while we were together. He was supportive and fun to be around, though. Whenever the subject of addiction came up, he cited academic journal articles, famous musicians, and even the Bible. The nuances of each discussion were different, but they all had the same theme: he was not an addict because you can’t get addicted to marijuana.

At the time, it made sense. I come from a family of addicts and the things I saw them do for their fixes were extreme compared to what a pot head would do. You don’t really see anyone selling their body in the streets for weed. No one is stealing their mother’s flatscreen to get a hit. Plus, when I smoked, it felt great. All my issues evaporated into thin air when I smoked with my fiancé. We would lay around for hours talking about nothing and everything. It helped me deal with my anxiety. Smoking became like breathing for me. Most addicts went through withdrawal when they didn’t have it for a while, but I just pleasantly looked forward to the next hit. It’s like I was walking around in a cloud of lazy bliss.

A few months before we were supposed to get married, I got a job offer. The final part of the application process required a drug test. I knew that going in, so I stopped smoking. I got the job and my new supervisor mentioned that I was one of only a few qualified candidates. He asked if I knew anyone who was looking for work. My eyes lit up because my fiancé had just graduated from a certification program. He’d be in a different building as a case manager, but I knew it would make him happy. I got home from the first day and told him the good news. He was excited until he realized that he’d have to stop smoking for a while. I convinced him that it would be okay.

He submitted the online application and smoked to celebrate.

My supervisor sent him a confirmation email and offered several interview dates and times. He picked one that was a week away—plenty of time to stop smoking and let it get out of his system. He didn’t stop until two days before. We went to an eccentric health store for a drink that supposedly cleaned your system for drug tests. The night before his scheduled interview, I was happy about everything. I fell asleep watching Netflix. At some point I woke up to him in the kitchen screaming “F—!”

He yelled and threw the phone at the microwave. When I went to see what happened, he was visibly angry. He just kept cursing and punching stuff. He never hit me, but I was scared. He told me that my supervisor sent an email saying his wife had gone into labor and he needed to reschedule. I was a bit confused because that seemed like a really minor issue. What he hadn’t told me was that he got fired from his job a few days before. I assured him we’d be fine with bills until the interview was rescheduled. He was unmoved and stormed out. When he came back the next morning, his clothes reeked. I was disgusted, the same way I had been the first time I smoked. He replied to the email and let my supervisor know he could meet the following week.

He smoked the rest of the week and slowly went back to his laid back self. I shrugged it off. The day of the interview, we left the house together. I went to my desk and he went to his interview. He sent me a text saying the interview was cancelled and he couldn’t pick me up from work. I was confused, but there was too much work, so I finished up and called him during my lunch break. I couldn’t get him on the line. I went back to work confused. We didn’t really talk about it, but he kept smoking so I figured the interview was a while away. After two weeks, my supervisor came back from paternity leave and asked why my fiancé hadn’t followed up. I told him he was wrapping up a project at work—clearly a lie, but I was embarrassed. I confronted my fiancé, but he brushed it off and said he didn’t want the job anymore. I was so irritated, but before I could express that, someone came to our door. He answered and slid the guy something without introducing him. I stood there for a second.

We hadn’t had trouble paying bills, even without the second income. He lost his job and didn’t get the position with the company I worked for. He also kept groceries in the house and had money to smoke. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The next week was a roller coaster between my passive aggressiveness and his recurring outbursts. Love became insufficient. I abruptly terminated our lease a few weeks before we were supposed to get married. I hear he just sells weed now. He tried to keep in contact for a while, but I’ve seen addiction before and wanted no part.

Addiction in young people is harder to determine sometimes. I couldn’t recognize the signs because I was already dealing with so much. The scary thing about addiction in young people is that our bodies are going through so many transitions, it’s difficult to recognize warning signs. How do we tell the difference between a substance being consumed regularly for health or recreational reasons and misuse or addiction?

Here are some tips to recognize addiction in young adults early on:

  • They stop keeping up their personal appearance to their usual standards; fingers/nails are often inexplicably dirty or seem burned
  • Frequent smell of smoke, locked doors, suspicious behavior, cash flow problems, secretive phone calls
  • Bloodshot eyes regardless of adequate sleep, inappropriately small or large pupils
  • Unstable, unpredictable mood changes, long disappearances, inability to focus. Truancy, unnaturally declining interest in school or work, failure to meet obligations. Impaired coordination, injuries/accidents/bruises that they won’t or can’t tell you about; they don’t know how they got hurt.

What can you do if a young person you love is showing signs of addiction?

Talking is one of the best things you can do. Keep the lines of communication open without judgement. Remember, you’re competing with peer pressure and the media’s glorification, so don’t be discouraged if the first few interactions are rocky. Remain vigilant and open. Treatment works, but before a young person can be treated, you may need to find out more about what they’re struggling with. What makes them happy? What makes them nervous? What has changed in their lives recently? Do they feel supported? Are they trying to escape something? This background information will be essential in the recovery process. Students need motivation to change behavior. They will need coping strategies and support. Addiction among teens is directly linked to the lack of impulse control prevalent during adolescence.

There is a thin line between the behaviors of a regular moody teenager and signs of a young addict. If you suspect a young person may be dealing with substance abuse, educate yourself about warning signs, teen depression, action plans, and coping mechanisms. You could save a life.

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