outreach: the impacts of marijuana
Jack* tried marijuana for the first time in the fall of his freshman year of high school. He and his long-time close friends decided that they needed to “relax and have some fun.” Pretty soon, most weekend activities involved smoking and the group of friends joining them grew larger. Jack found an easy way to buy pot, and he began smoking almost daily, sometimes with friends and sometimes by himself. Jack’s parents were divorced and each tried to handle it in their own way but it became apparent that things were getting out of control. Jack started missing school; his grades were terrible; he was more argumentative at home, and after years of playing an instrument, he decided not to even join the band.
Jack reluctantly agreed to meet with a counselor at Outreach. He didn’t receive the lecture he was expecting; the counselor was interested in talking with him about all parts of his life and listened to him without judgment. By this time, Jack had been a chronic marijuana user for almost a year. Jack didn’t see the harm—he reasoned that if use is legal in other states and had medical benefits, it couldn’t really be that bad for you. The counselor educated Jack on the effects of marijuana on his developing brain. She explained that use at such a young age impairs the executive functions of the brain. This area of the brain develops last and is responsible for abstract thought, understanding rules, and controlling impulsivity. Regular use of marijuana has also been shown to decrease motivation and focus, and impair cognition and memory. Jack could relate to this; he found it much harder to focus on his school work, complete tough assignments, and remember things for tests. Teens also have a higher rate of dropping out, suicide attempts, depression, and increased use of other illicit drugs. While Jack denied using other substances, he noticed that some “pills” started appearing at the parties he attended.
The counselor helped Jack to better understand his addiction and the factors sustaining it. He was adamant that he could not lose his friends, and felt they were the only ones who were there for him. He thought that “everyone” at school used because all of his friends did. Jack also realized that he used marijuana to cope with stress at home and tension in his relationship with his parents. Jack’s plan for recovery had to focus on more than just his use of marijuana. He began working on coping skills to address his stress and anxiety; he slowly rebuilt friendships with peers who were not using and avoided parties with his friends who smoked; he joined an organization for young musicians in the city; and he began having family therapy sessions with his parents to address the problems in their relationship.
*Jack represents a typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.
Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth and parents that are affordable, accessible, and discreet; all within a welcoming, supportive environment.