Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

Can marijuana use destroy a life?

“I think he is using something stronger than marijuana” his mother said as we sat down for a counseling session.  “How could such a mild drug cause him such problems?” At that point I shared with her that it Was “only” marijuana but in her son’s case as in many others, it’s enough to bring them to their knees. Marijuana can be an insidious drug whose negative effects often take a long time to realize.

This mom’s son, a young man, very smart and talented had recently approached me to help him with his addiction after he was stopped by the police for driving under the influence of marijuana.  It had only been a week since he received his driver’s license and he immediately lost it for 30 days. Now he has a trial pending.  Looking good in front of the judge was his primary concern, hence he began treatment with me.

At our first meeting he admitted that “Pot” had ruined his life.  As a young boy he was excited about music and sports. His life seemed to have meaning until he was introduced to Marijuana.  Little by little nothing interested him.  He passed up opportunities to go out, stopped playing sports and stopped creating.  He admitted that marijuana use ruined his family and intimate relationships, his grades at school and his interest in sports.  Most upsetting to him was his lack of interest in his music. He had spent thousands of shekels developing music videos that stagnated on You Tube. He wasted years of his life hanging out with “using friends”.  Until recently he considered them his real friends until he finally realized that if he wasn’t smoking pot he had nothing in common with them.  Yet even with all of these reasons to quit he continued to use until he was stopped at a random check point.

He had always believed that heavy drugs were the problem and therefore stayed away from them. He never imagined that marijuana could damage his life as it did.  During our sessions together he admitted that when he was high his guard was down and his negative voices crept in.  He felt like a looser, incapable of succeeding in life. He couldn’t get excited about anything and simply stopped trying.  He cut off his friendships and isolated himself in his room.  It took him until the age of 24 after finding a way to get out of the army after less than a year and many failed attempts to study and work to realize that with his pot use, life was going nowhere. Yet he still continued smoking, moving back home due to his lack of ability to support himself.

I looked into the affects of Cannabis use in Colorado since its legalization. Colorado has since seen a significant increase in marijuana related traffic deaths, poison control calls and emergency room visits.  The rate of use of marijuana in Colorado’s underage youth since its legalization is the highest in the nation, actually 74% higher than the national average.  The true impact of its use is just starting to be learned and Colorado believes the negative effects will be felt for generations.

As with this young man, marijuana use characteristically causes lack of motivation when used on a constant basis.  As drug counselors have discovered, the abuse of drugs may begin as a way to fit in with peers and have a good time but is often exasperated by the desire to escape from feelings of sadness, incompetence, lack of purpose, insecurities, guilt, shame and other negative emotions.  Ironically the consistent use of this and other drugs exaggerates those same feelings when true to form its users lose their motivation to accomplish things in life and to move forward.

From an early age we are taught to use external sources to self sooth.  This idea stays with us as we grow so it is natural to turn to self medication when dealing with painful issues and circumstances.  There seems to be an inherent fear of vulnerability, of simply allowing ourselves to feel the feelings and the pain. As with the first of the 12 steps, admitting we are powerless and our lives are out of control can actually be a relief.  We cannot control feelings of pain. We can only accept them and work through them.

The first step for avoiding or dealing with addiction is finding Truth. Finding our inner truth and what makes us truly happy in life keeps us balanced and able to live our lives in healthy ways.  Secondly Love.  Feeling compassion for ourselves and others gives us a sense of purpose and security. We are not alone. Next is commitment toward another person.  A policeman whose jurisdiction was the San Francisco Bridge explained that he managed to convince 200 out of 202 people perched on the bridge planning to jump to change their mind by reminding them of their commitment to their loved ones.  An extension of the latter two necessities is community.  Surrounding ourselves with healthy people supports our healthy life choices.  It makes it easier for us to tolerate and even work through our pain.

Addicts are generally known to be hyper sensitive people.  Some say it’s as if they are born with their nerves exposed through their skin.  Their tolerance for pain is low and that adds to their lack of self esteem.  When addicts begin using drugs to avoid their pain they lose the important opportunity for emotional growth.  They begin to separate from their true selves. Their mental and emotional muscles are spared the experiences essential for growth which explains why so many addicts seem so immature for their age.  Challenges are what cause us to grow and mature.  Facing their inner truth, being honest with those around them, walking through their fear is what helps them to fight their addiction.

Addicts by nature seem to have a strong need for connection and purpose.  Adding acts of kindness toward others to their daily routine often fulfills their needs for both and lessens their need for pain numbing chemicals.

What is our job in supporting our loved ones struggling with toxic behaviors? How do we support them and assist them in finding their true path to recovery. Begin by understanding that they are struggling.   No one wants to be an addict.  Human nature is the desire to be in control, not to be controlled.  Certainly not to be controlled by destructive behaviors.  Addiction happens when one loses connection to their inner as well as their outer world.  Be their anchor!  Let them know that it is never too late to turn it around and that you will be there throughout their journey. How we do that is the next topic to be explored. Worth mentioning is that occasional marijuana use is usually not an issue and can be enjoyed just as an occasional glass of wine or beer.  It’s when one is too many and 50 are not enough that the real problems begin.

I would be remiss to not mention the powerful medicinal effects of medical marijuana. It has proven to assist so many in dealing with pain. As with anything when used in the appropriate way it has added to so many’s quality of life and will hopefully be approved for many more in need that have sadly not received approval.

Tracey Shipley is a teen and family counselor specializing in addictions. For more articles like this one see her website:

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Methadone Clinic, Established a program for Ethiopian Teens educating them about their culture and opened the Jerusalem School of Rock program which helps to create teen rock bands and established monthly teen music events at downtown venues where teens perform for their friends in a teen friendly exciting atmosphere. In addtion to her projects Tracey is the English Speaking Volunteer Coordinator for Emunah Jerusalem.
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