Dear New Shrink,

My husband and I are very worried about our son. He is in his mid 20s, has had an excellent education, but all that he seems to be interested in is staying up late to play video games and sleeping until noon. He hasn’t gotten a job, doesn’t even look for one; he also doesn’t seem to be interested in having a girlfriend. Actually, he seems interested in very little.

We have been told that he smokes marijuana every day but he denies it. We both think that we have smelled it.

We realize that we are probably enabling him by allowing him to stay in our home, but at the same time the job market is bad and we are terribly worried about what will happen if we ask him to leave.

He simply does not seem capable of taking care of himself. This by the way is very different from the teenage son we used to have. Everything about him seems very different.

Can you tell us how to know if marijuana is causing this? What should we be doing if it is?

Signed,

Worried Parents

Dear Worried Parents,

I am sorry to say that you should be concerned, but there are some things that you can do.

I can’t say for sure that your son is smoking marijuana, but he sure fits the profile. Marijuana is very easy to obtain, many people think that it is benign and most young people are trying it and many are using it regularly.

Marijuana is much stronger than it use to be and stays in the system longer. It also stores in the fat cells, so daily users are really stoned all of the time, whether they realize it or not.

Everything you said about your son is consistent with what can happen with regular marijuana use. Contrary to popular opinion, it is addictive. Addiction means difficulty with controlling drug use (or a behavior) and not being able to stop even though it is interfering with one’s life.

There is documented proof that many regular long-term users experience a withdrawal syndrome of irritability, anxiety, sleeping problems and craving. Fifteen percent of people entering drug treatment say that marijuana is their drug of choice.

Marijuana is linked with several very disturbing mental health problems. There is strong evidence suggesting that it can lead to psychosis or a brief psychotic episode that gradually fades away when the drug is withdrawn.

Research has shown definite negative effects on attention, memory and learning, all of which can last for days or weeks after the acute effects wear off. There is really no question that regular users are impaired in their daily functioning.

This is not to say that marijuana is bad in general or for all people. I am not talking about occasional social or recreational use of marijuana. Generally, it is the regular users of it that experience the negative effects and are at increased risk for psychosis, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety or personality disturbances. Of course, like alcohol, marijuana is very intoxicating and no one should drive under its influence.

One of the longest standing concerns about marijuana has been with what is known as “amotivational syndrome,” which is a diminished or absent drive to participate in what would typically be rewarding experiences. Along with reduced intellectual ability and the cognitive impairment associated with regular use, it is no surprise that many of these people have less educational accomplishments, lower incomes and far lower career achievements.

The good news is that you can do something for your son. You can take him to your family physician to be tested or there are over the counter drug tests that are very reliable. If he is using regularly and cannot stop, it would clearly explain the behavior you are worried about. Your son may need help to quit and get started up again with a normal life.

There are treatment programs and there are addiction specialists that can help him if he can’t help himself. Some physicians or psychiatrists that specialize in addiction medicine may prescribe some temporary medications to help him detoxify. There are also groups and 12-Step programs for marijuana users.

If what you are seeing and thinking is correct, your son most likely needs help. And enabling him will not help him. There is something in between putting him out versus continuing to support him while looking the other way.

Find out what is truly going on and do something about it.

Best of luck!

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Dr. Barge is also APA certified in the treatment of substance abuse. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your inquires to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind, let us help you with your life matters.