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Early Signs of Addiction: Being Cognizant is Key

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While science may have proven that cannabis isn’t a gateway drug as it was said to be for so many years, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have the potential for addiction. Like any substance that alters your brain chemistry, there is some risk of addiction to cannabis, both psychological and physical – even if it is far less common than in legal substances like alcohol and tobacco or harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. Today, we'll look at some of the common early signs of addiction seen among all types of addiction.

Can You Become Addicted to Cannabis? – What the Science Says

For a long time, it’s been said that cannabis can’t be addictive – but that’s not entirely true. While it is true that cannabis is not a narcotic, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to be addictive to some people, especially those already at risk for addiction and substance use.

However, Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is a very real thing that affects a small percentage of cannabis consumers, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Interestingly, it should also be kept in mind that many turn to cannabis as a way to treat addiction to more harmful substances, alcohol, tobacco, and opioids.

How can one substance be potentially addicting and a treatment for addiction at the same time? Well, this comes down to how regular and excessive cannabis use affects our individual brain chemistry, similar to how some may experience heightened paranoia or psychotic episodes while most people who use cannabis never do.

What Are the Warning Signs of Addiction to Cannabis VS Alcohol and Other Drugs?

Sometimes, the signs of addiction will be very specific based on the addiction itself. For example, an alcoholic would smell of beer, wine, or booze, and you may find empty bottles hidden in the trash.  Meanwhile, a heroin or meth addict may have needles or butane torches, and odd things like spoons, and even shoelaces may come up missing.

Regardless of the substance being abused, there are a few signs of addiction that are common across cannabis use disorder, alcoholism, drug addiction (cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine), and even addictions like gambling:

  • Loss of interest in once-favorite activities
  • Lack of interest in social activities among former social butterflies
  • Lower grades or lack of occupational motivation
  • Lack of care for appearance and hygiene
  • Excessive weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in sleeping and eating habits
  • Changes in hobbies, friends, or appearance
  • Moodiness and irritability, nervousness or paranoia

Signs of Addiction in Teens and Young Adults: What Should Parents Watch For?

Parents of teens already have enough to worry about without adding substance abuse to that list, but we can’t deny it happens. Teenagers are bound to experiment no matter what restrictions and obstacles we put in place, even if those numbers are reduced post-legalization.

Knowing this, parents should keep an eye out for some of the signs of addiction more common in teenagers than adults, like:

  • Mood changes (defensiveness, excessive irritability)
  • Academic problems (poor attendance, drastic or sudden drop in grades)
  • Change in friends or a reluctance to bring new friends around family
  • Physical or mental changes (memory lapses, poor concentration and coordination, or slurred speech)

If you notice these types of changes in your teen, try talking to them – and if that doesn’t work, seek professional help and advice. Addiction can happen at any age and is a lifelong condition, but if caught early and treatment is combined with a supportive network of friends and family, it doesn’t have to be the end.

Can You Prevent Addiction to Cannabis or Other Substances?

The truth is, there’s no way to predict whether or not you will become addicted to cannabis any more than you can predict becoming an alcoholic.

While some substances like tobacco and harder drugs have chemically addictive properties that almost guarantee addiction with prolonged use, cannabis use disorder is a disorder that stems most often from a psychological dependence that often leads to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

If you have been addicted to other substances in the past or if you have a family history of substance abuse disorders, then you may want to be more conscious of your cannabis consumption habits. Like alcohol, it’s up to the consumer to use cannabis products responsibly – and it’s up to all of us to recognize the signs of addiction so we can do our best to protect those we love and voice our concerns before it’s too late to do so.

Julia Granowicz-Johnson is a founder, copywriter, and journalism blogger with a passion for the cannabis plant and its uses in personal wellness and medicine. She advocates for the reform of cannabis laws around the globe through her writing and aims to bring attention to the negative impacts that prohibition has left in its wake.