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It’s difficult to measure drug abuse

During my 37 years as an alcohol/drug counselor, marijuana has remained controversial. In recent years medical marijuana has gained acceptance. And now the N.H. Legislature is debating recreational pot use. Certainly if I were the typical social user of pot who used the drug in a problem-free appropriate manner, I’d like to be treated like a social user of alcohol, and thus buy, possess and use the drug legally.

However, I never saw any social problem-free pot user in my office. Because everyone is unique and special, each person has to do a series of chemical experiments to see what happens to them. While no one pre-plans allergic reactions, some folks get in serious trouble with poison ivy. And when drugs are socially acceptable and readily available, far more people are exposed, and thus more folks get in trouble. Like an iceberg, it’s very difficult to measure drug abuse, but probably 10-15 percent of pot smokers have a substance abuse disorder.

Some use pot in moderation and the outcomes are pleasurable. Others use pot typically to get stoned or wasted, which in turn can lead to a process of becoming a “stoner” or “waste-o.” Pot may be used alone, with other drugs, or be a gateway to all kinds of chemicals. Marijuana dependence is for real. Among other things, it’s about a person stuck in a troubled relationship with pot. The need to keep using is more important than mounting problems caused by the continued drug use.

In our culture, middle school is “crunch time” for many kids as they get exposed to marijuana and various other activities involving great risks. If adults in a teen’s life are using pot, the kids will typically use pot. Suspended adolescence is a very real risk for pot-smoking kids. I’ve seen many sad people in their mid- to late-20s who are developmentally 14 or 15 years old.

When pot use turns to abuse, there are many toxic effects on school grades, work ethics, and intimate human relationships. It’s very sad to listen to a woman seeking divorce because her husband loves pot more than he loves her. Or the desperate parents watching their teen self-destruct in a marijuana haze.

While doing mind-altering chemicals like marijuana is fun and games for many, these are not the folk I have seen sitting on my office furniture during the past 37 years. While drug problems are highly treatable, it’s far better to prevent such problems.

Mike Beebe lives in Lyndeborough.

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