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My teenager has a serious problem with marijuana. He constantly points out that I drink., and therefore, he doesn't see the problem with his marijuana use. What do I tell him?

First, here are some facts about marijuana and a comparison of the characteristics of marijuana and alcohol: Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used among adolescents. Even if it is the most commonly used drug, most teens have not used marijuana. Marijuana shares some of the same attributes and health consequences as tobacco. Both marijuana and tobacco are plants and are commonly smoked and consequently may damage the smoker's lungs. Marijuana and alcohol both have social and economic consequences. Alcoholics often become poverty stricken and homeless. Chronic heavy marijuana users who smoked beginning in high school may have trouble graduating because of a combination of memory loss and a lack of motivation to complete their education. Consequently, young adults who smoked marijuana and/ or drank alcohol excessively while in high school are often unemployed.

Marijuana Effects

Marijuana has sedative, analgesic, anxiolytic (antianxiety), and hallucinogenic effects. It can, however, also provoke anxiety and panic attacks, as it causes a rapid heart rate. Occasionally, paranoia, including frank paranoid delusions, may occur. Additionally, it may cause dizziness, giddiness, bloodshot eyes, and difficulty with short-term memory. Finally, it can either suppress or enhance appetite and suppresses nausea and vomiting in patients suffering from serious illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS. Adolescents use marijuana to achieve a mild, relatively short period of euphoric intoxication. Although it is not as addictive as alcohol or tobacco, it can still lead to dependency or addiction problems. Like alcohol, the individual effects of the drug on each person depend on how proficient the individual is at smoking, as well as its potency, the place where it is used, what the user anticipates will happen, and what other drugs it may be mixed with.

Chronic heavy marijuana users who smoked beginning in high school may have trouble graduating because of a combination of memory loss and a lack of motivation to complete their education.

Children at this age normally compare themselves with adults. Confronted with the teens marijuana use and the parent's alcohol use, parents may need guidance as to how to steer the discussion in the direction that is not defensive but is helpful. Table 17, which compares alcohol and marijuana, may be used to guide the discussion. It is best for parents to stick to the facts without exaggerating them.

One website called the Berkeley Parents Network provides advice in a newsletter that reviews parental comments in a weekly discussion. Parents' advice to each other ranges from ignoring the child's drug and/or alcohol use to being very punitive. The most cogent advice that one set of parents gave to the others was to keep discussions between the parents and their teens open and ongoing. It is particularly important to find out the underlying causes of why the teen feels the need to turn to drugs. Is it boredom, frustration with home and/or school, feeling isolated, peer pressure, the need for instant gratification, lack of self-confidence, misinformation, or rebellion? After the underlying cause is determined, then the teen and the parents can work together toward a solution. A perfect example of this came from one set of parents who committed themselves to abstinence (they previously drank wine with meals at home) in order to support their child's commitment to abstinence. Additionally, they entered family counseling and discovered that their teen used marijuana to relax. Consequently, healthy alternatives to marijuana for relaxation were pursued, and yoga and meditation classes were offered to learn more appropriate relaxation techniques.

Table 17 Alcohol and Marijuana Issues Compared

The Issue

Alcohol

Marijuana

Use among teens

Most teens do not drink alcohol.

Most teens do not smoke marijuana.

Legality

It is legal only for people over 21 to buy, drink, or sell alcohol in most states. It is illegal to buy or possess alcohol under the age of 21

years.

It is an illegal drug. The most important difference regarding the use of the two substances is the fact that it is illegal at any age to smoke marijuana.

Is it addictive?

Yes, alcohol is physically and psychologically addictive, but not everyone who drinks becomes addicted; 100,000 people die from alcohol addiction and its related causes each year.

It may be psychologically addictive and possibly physically addictive. Not everyone who uses marijuana becomes addicted. Marijuana is less addictive than tobacco or alcohol, but it has serious, adverse side effects.

What are the affects of drinking or smoking on driving a motor vehicle?

It is extremely dangerous and is the leading cause of death among teens.

It is extremely dangerous and is the leading cause of death among teens.

What are the statistics of accidental deaths or injuries related to driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana?

One teen is killed or maimed per hour from driving while impaired after drinking alcohol.

One teen is killed or maimed per hour from driving while stoned on marijuana.

After drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, how long do the effects last?

They last for 1 to 2 hours per drink.

One to four hours for the immediate effects.

It takes 1 to 2 weeks to clear the body entirely.

What are the effects of mixing alcohol or marijuana with other drugs?

It is extremely dangerous and can lead to death.

It may be dangerous, causing bodily harm.

(continued)

Table 17 Alcohol and Marijuana Issues Compared (continued)

The Issue

Alcohol

Marijuana

What are the effects of using either substance on the brain and on the personality?

The effects are slowed reflexes, distorted vision, memory lapses, and blackouts. They can eventually lead to brain damage. Judgment is impaired, and inhibitions lowered, leading to risky behaviors, including “at-risk” sexual behaviors. Depression may follow chronic use or abuse.

Violence is frequently associated with alcohol use. Chronic use may lead to an organic brain syndrome.

Marijuana has similar effects as alcohol, in terms of reflexes, coordination, and vision. The loss of memory and A-motivational syndrome are both serious consequences that adversely affect school performance. Marijuana enhances sexual feelings, which may lead to risky sexual behaviors, resulting in adverse consequences. Depression, anxiety attacks, paranoia, or psychosis, including hallucinations, may follow its use.

Can use of alcohol or marijuana cause cancer and other serious diseases?

Yes. Alcohol can damage every organ in the body, risking a person for a variety of life threatening experiences, including cancer, liver disease, and so forth.

A variety of chemicals in marijuana contain carcinogens. One joint contains four times as much cancer-causing tar as cigarettes.

It affects the immune system leaving the body more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses.

Is alcohol or marijuana a “gateway drug,” thus leading to the use of other drugs that may be illegal?

Teens who smoke and drink are more likely to use marijuana. People who use all three substances are more likely to use other drugs.

It has not been proven that using marijuana leads to using other drugs. It is a fact that most people who use illegal drugs did use marijuana first.

Source: Adapted from the following sources: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2005; Anonymous Student, 2004; Focus Adolescent Services 2001; Hyde, 2006; Long, 2005; Parents, The Anti-Drug, 2006; Tips for Teens, 2003.

It is illegal to buy, sell, or possess marijuana in this country, and doing any of these activities can lead to serious legal problems. Even a small amount may lead to fines or an arrest. Besides the issue of health, this is the main reason for teens to abstain from using marijuana. At the same time, drinking wine with dinner and drinking responsibly, as an adult, is legal.

It is illegal to buy, sell, or possess marijuana in this country, and doing any of these activities can lead to serious legal problems.

This may smack the teen as societal hypocrisy, and you need to be aware that teens are ever alert to that notion and often use it as an excuse for their continued behavior. Society as represented by the law, however, has no regard for such allegedly ethical distinctions, and part of maturity is coming to grips with that simple fact. Continued use could place the teen's future in jeopardy if caught by the police with an illegal substance.

 
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