Dear Old Hippie: Between the ages of 16 and 20 I used pot recreationally. However, I eventually abused it during that time and became dependent on it at the end of that period. Also all my friends and associates were doing the same thing. We did it constantly. We had to have it all the time. It definitely interferred with our lives because it became the center of our lives. I got clean from it at 20 and never went back. I haven’t done pot for the last 20 years. So I know it can be problematic for some, and those individuals can and do become addicts.

A: Well, there are addicts and there are addicts. When I was a lad, the only way the word “addiction” was used was for the well-known addiction to opiates, complete with the familiar (at least, in literature) horror of withdrawal symptoms. Addiction to alcohol was known, but always called by the name “alcoholism” so as not to taint alcoholics with the stigma of addiction. In other words, if you were strung out on heroin, it was your fault, but if you were an alcoholic, you had a “disease”, so you were an innocent victim. In many ways, little has changed in 45 years.

Speaking of 45 years, let’s jump in the Wayback Machine for a moment. I, too, was a regular recreational user at that age, and I also remember doing the same thing as you. It felt so good to be high that you wanted to be high all the time. You couldn’t imagine doing anything important unless you were high. Sound familiar?

But I also remember the same thing about sex. Once I discovered it, I didn’t want to be without it. I couldn’t imagine having a relationship with a girl without it. Sometimes, lying in bed and doing it was all I wanted to do…for days!

Then I discovered foreign films. I would spend all my spare time at the hipster movie theaters that showed them. I dreamed about them constantly and made them the center of my life. I went to Italy and watched Fellini on the set. I wanted to be a movie director. I even changed my life and college program to make this happen.

None of these things are physically addictive. They’re just pleasurable. And for an adolescent or young adult discovering the many and varied pleasures of life, it’s hard to get enough of them, especially if your peer group gives you a great deal of support and encouragement about continuing.

There’s a big difference between a literally addicting drug like heroin or alcohol or Oxycontin…and marijuana. Marijuana is said to be “psychologically addicting”, but that’s only because psychologists came up with that term so they’d have a new income stream. They’ll also treat you for sex addiction, internet addiction, money addiction, and possibly even foreign film addiction. But it’s not the particular drug or activity that’s forcing you to feel that way, it’s your own immature desire to have the fun thing continue. Most people can deal with it, but about 10 to 15% of people seem to have problems and let it take over their entire lives, no matter what “it” is. It’s their own personality and willpower that’s causing the problem, but it’s also difficult psychologically to admit this (due to the ego and self-esteem factor), so it’s easier to say “I’m addicted! It’s not my fault!” And society, in the form of media articles and the ever-present professional addiction counselors, is happy to agree with you.

(Note: this column was developed from an interesting conversation in the comments on this article.)

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