Teens smoking pot is nothing new, but if you assume they do it mostly out of boredom, to relax or to be cool, you would be wrong. A new study has highlighted the main reason that young people turn to smoking pot: they are using this drug as a coping mechanism and as a way to deal with negative emotions and traumatic experiences. The habit is a dangerous one. Not only does it prevent young people from learning good, lifelong coping mechanisms, but it can also cause harm.
Teens Using Pot to Cope
The recent study, conducted by researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital, worked with 40 volunteers, all young people and regular marijuana users. These participants were provided with tablet computers for the duration of the experiment. The computer asked several questions throughout the day about their feelings, moods, social contact and drug use. They also were expected to answer questions on the computer just before and after smoking pot.
The researchers sorted through the thousands of reports generated by the computers and survey questions. They found that the participants’ emotions were more negative up to 24 hours before using marijuana.
They also found that their moods and emotions did not improve and did not become more positive after using the drug. Many of the young people reported that their motivation to use pot was to feel better, yet most of them did not feel better afterward. Often they felt worse.
The Risks of Drugs as a Coping Tool
The study proved that young people use marijuana to cope with bad feelings, but it also demonstrated the risks of doing so. Marijuana use creates a negative cycle. The young person feels bad; she smokes pot and momentarily feels better or neutral; she then feels worse and the cycle starts again.
One of the big risks of engaging in this kind of behavior is that getting into such a cycle can lead to dependence. Evidence from other studies has shown that people who use marijuana as teens are more likely to become addicted later in life.
Teens using pot also put themselves at risk for mental and physical health consequences. There is plenty of evidence from research that teens using marijuana regularly suffer from serious changes to the brain, which may be permanent. These include impaired memory, declines in cognitive function and even a significant drop in IQ. There are also physical impacts of smoking marijuana regularly, including a persistent cough and lung infections.
Positive Coping Mechanisms
Another way in which smoking pot in response to negative feelings is detrimental for teens is that it prevents them from learning positive and beneficial coping mechanisms. Teens may have negative emotions for a number of reasons: depression, anxiety, abuse or other traumatic experiences.
To become health and happy adults, they need to address these issues in ways that are productive and useful. Teens who need help should work with a professional. Therapists can help teens use talking, journaling, meditation, socializing and other techniques to cope with negative feelings and traumatic events.
Smoking pot is something that teens have always been drawn to, but we now know that many are doing it to try to feel better. These are the young people who need help learning how to cope in productive and positive ways. They need adults to reach out to them and guide them toward better ways of coping. If they can get the help they need, they will not need to use harmful drugs, which only lead to more problems.
By: Mary Ellen Ellis