Gateway? You bet.

Many times, as they shrug their shoulders in dismissive way, I hear adults of influence say the following: “At least it’s only marijuana – not hard drugs.” They go on to say they smoked weed in their teens and 20s and turned out OK, or that cannabis is no different from alcohol.

Perhaps this is an attempt to put their past use in perspective. More likely, however, it is a disbelief that there is any real concern – that casual use of marijuana is a problem, that it can be a gateway to other substances, or that regular use can lead to addiction.

Recently, this article ran in the the Boston Globe asking: Can We Please Stop Pretending Marijuana Is Harmless? https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2015/10/08/can-please-stop-pretending-marijuana-harmless/MneQebFPWg79ifTAXc1PkM/story.html

Believe me, my husband and I have heard all the arguments and been presented with mountains of evidence. Our son was exceptionally passionate in his beliefs. We used to tell him – even though we disagreed – that he should go work for one of the pro-marijuana groups because at least then he’d be putting action toward his beliefs rather than just arguing for his own use. Of course, he never did.

Research tells us that marijuana and alcohol remain the starting point for additional substance use in later years. For most kids (under 18), it stays at an experimentation phase or it may progress to more frequent use but not necessarily to addiction.

For many, it never becomes more than “just “ marijuana or alcohol, and with maturity and adult responsibilities, their use moderates.

But, for one in nine people, marijuana use is problematic. It may show up as missing school or work and not completing assignments. It may show up in apathetic attitudes and the inability to follow through with goals. It may put your kids in situations where other drugs are being sold or used.

Think about this. If your kid is smoking marijuana and driving a car, they are impaired and any passengers are at risk. As the parent, you are liable for this, too. States like Colorado are feeling the effect of impaired driving as more and more motorists are using cannabis products.

From a neuro-science perspective, marijuana is particularly dangerous for developing brains, and it has lasting impact on IQ not to mention mental and emotional health as well as decision making.

Without a doubt, marijuana use clouds their judgement.

Today, kids have far greater access to substances, which means they may not start with the usual suspects of marijuana or alcohol. They may try prescription pills – think pain pills or things like ADHD medication. They may try synthetic drugs like K2/Spice (bath salts) or Molly (MDMA/Ecstasy) or others.

If a kid is susceptible to addiction, particularly if there is a family predisposition or if they are struggling with any mental health symptoms, we need to be particularly vigilant and cognizant of what they are thinking, doing and feeling.

Often teenage emotions can lead to “wanting to escape” or “wanting to fit in.” At first, alcohol or marijuana may ease anxiety or depression; in other words, they self medicate. In time, this stops working and they may progress to other substances.

Sometimes, kids are curious or even bored, and marijuana seems like a safe experiment – until it gets out of control and leads to progressively more dangerous things.

One of the statistics that really sticks with me is that 90 percent of adults with a substance-use disorder (aka addiction) experienced their first substance use under the age of 18 – regardless of whether that was alcohol, marijuana, pills or other drugs. The time to do something about addiction is when they are still kids – our kids. When we still can. When we are still obligated to parent them.

If your kid is using drugs, they are not bad kids and it is not the result of bad parenting.

It’s simply a scary reality that requires unconditional love and a commitment to discovering, understanding and solving the use as well as the underlying situation.

That’s a bold, big undertaking, but as parents we are not alone in this challenge. The most important things we can do is to connect with other parents, to tap professional resources, to learn as much as we can, to take care of ourselves, and to take on this challenge. This is the essence of the Our Young Addicts community, and it is what drives us to participate. Join us and we will help each other.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

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