Driving home tonight, the radio was on a station I don’t normally listen to and the Dr. Drew show was on. He got a call from a young man, age 23, about to graduate college and become a teacher. The man admits to smoking marijuana daily since about age 16. Man wants to know how long he needs to stop smoking pot in order to pass his drug test to become a teacher. Dr. Drew tells him two months, tells him he is a marijuana “addict”, responds that there is no such thing as “psychological addiction”, says every marijuana “addict” he treats in California has their medical marijuana card (well, duh, who wants to be arrested?), tells the young man that the marijuana “addiction” has put him in denial and led to “drug motivational” thinking because the young man admitted he only wanted to know how long to stop smoking so he could pass and then start smoking again after he became a teacher.
The problem I have with the Dr. Drew show I heard is this reflexive labeling of someone who uses marijuana daily as an “addict”. This young man sounds like he’s doing OK. He’s graduating college at age 23, just about right on time. He’s becoming a teacher. If he was drinking a beer every day, would he be an alcoholic? Would his promise to drink beer after he became a teacher be an example of “alcoholic motivational thinking?” The only problem he has is the illegality of marijuana and the idiocy of collecting people’s urine to judge their fitness for teaching children.
Some people have an unhealthy relationship with cannabis. According to NIDA, about 9% of users can develop marijuana dependence. All I ask is that Dr. Drew make it clear that 91% of us are not dependent, we just like to use cannabis! Like Hunter S. Thompson said, it’s like beer, ice, and grapefruit – you could live your life without it, but why?
To be fair, Dr. Drew also says that if you want to smoke pot, go ahead, he doesn’t want to stop anyone, but if you want to stop and want help he can help you. (For a hefty fee, of course, though I think he failed to mention that.) I think he’s probably not in favor of arresting and imprisoning pot smokers. But when all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – he’s a drug counselor who sees only the most desperately addicted day after day, so every pot smoker looks like a future client to him.
He also mentioned Marijuana Anonymous. Now I know my Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, Thirteen Articles of Faith (whoops, wrong religion)… my father was an alcoholic and speed addict who then went through recovery, AA, NA, then got a BSW and became a drug and alcohol counselor when I was a teenager. I can spout Stuart Smalleyisms with the best of them. I know many people whose lives were saved by that program, but it was never for me – way too quasi-religious for my tastes.
As I read the “Twelve Questions” that Marijuana Anonymous asks regarding marijuana use in an effort to help you understand if you’re an “addict”, I can’t help but notice how many of the questions merely observe an effect of marijuana prohibition, rather than any particular problem with marijuana use. For example:
#4. Do you find that your friends are determined by your marijuana use? (Well, yes, because outlaws tend to hang with outlaws. I’d love to have more friends that don’t smoke marijuana, but they tend to be afraid of visiting a home where police may burst in at any moment to arrest “criminals”.)
#7 Does your marijuana use let you live in a privately defined world? (Sure! It’s not often that people who are breaking the law like to make that world public.)
#9 When your stash is nearly empty, do you feel anxious or worried about how to get more? (Yes, because I can’t buy it at a store like a six-pack or a cigar.)
#11 Do you plan your life around your marijuana use? (You mean like avoiding national parks, non medical marijuana states, and states with per se DUID laws while on vacation? Or finding clandestine places to smoke marijuana? Sure!)
I also notice how the questions are only scary if you begin with an assumption that regular marijuana use is problematic. If you asked me some of these “Twelve Questions” about my dog, I could give you “yes” answers, does that mean I’m a Jack Russell Terrier “addict” (I am!)
#1 Has walking your dog stopped being fun? (Yes, but not always.)
#2 Do you ever play with your dog alone? (Sure, sometimes being alone with your dog – or getting high alone – is a nice way to relax.)
#3 Is it hard for you to imagine a life without your dog? (Impossible!)
#6 Do you play with your dog to cope with your feelings? (He’s the best buddy to have on a down day – just like pot!)
Addiction is a powerful thing and I just hate the way it is tossed about by pop psychologists like Dr. Drew and Marijuana Anonymous. Yes, there is a consistent theme among those who abuse anything – pot, gambling, sex, shopping, internet, alcohol, heroin, etc. – but “addiction” should be reserved for those substances that alter the body’s chemistry to the point where there is an undeniable physical need for the substance and without it severe complication can arise. Sorry, but if you force the pot smoker, gambler, shopper, or World of Warcraft player to go cold turkey, they do not risk death, but the alcohol, cocaine, meth, and heroin addict may die. The former people may have a serious psychological dependence, but the latter people have a physical addiction.
Maybe it’s just me and my love of language. I feel calling people with marijuana dependence “addicts” cheapens and demeans the people who are truly physically addicted to serious drugs. (Watching your father kick alcohol and speed cold turkey at age eleven will leave a lasting impression. Show me the marijuana “addict” puking, trembling, hallucinating, screaming, and crying from not having a joint for three weeks and I’ll buy the “addict” label.)