Since all drugs have particular, self-defining characteristics, experts generally speak of a drug in terms of the user's dependence on it, rather than addiction. Although the two terms are very close in meaning, drug addiction is a special kind of dependence marked by physical changes in the body as a result of tolerance to and withdrawal from a drug.
Most research indicates that marijuana does not cause much physical dependence in most users. Therefore, such dependence tends not to be used as an indicator or predictor of marijuana use patterns. What research does show is that although marijuana usually does not cause physical dependence, it has the ability to create strong psychological dependence, as do almost all drugs. This dependence has many of the same characteristics of physical dependence—cravings, tolerance, withdrawal, and the continuation of the drug despite negative consequences. Psychological dependence therefore can be a useful tool for understanding marijuana use patterns.
Studies indicate that about 10 percent of people who try marijuana become dependent on it at some time during their four or five years of heaviest use. Trends show that marijuana use peaks during teenage years through about age 25; therefore, the "four or five years of heaviest use" likely correspond to some part of adolescence in most users. Other studies corroborate this finding, documenting that about 10 percent of young people using marijuana can be considered "problem users" (that is, people who use marijuana alone, and/or in the morning, and/or repeatedly). Problem users tend to experience other issues (such as dropping out of school or delinquency), but as we discussed previously, these behavioral problems have been shown to stem most often from other underlying problems rather than from marijuana itself. It is worth noting that the risk of becoming dependent on marijuana is similar to the risk of alcohol dependency (15 percent); nicotine dependency, by comparison, has a much higher risk (32 percent).
We can sense, intuitively and practically, how almost anything can create dependency. Some teens say they cannot live without chocolate. Others may just love to jog every day, rain or shine. Still others might read Rolling Stone magazine every month without fail or play poker for money every afternoon with their buddies. Researchers and teenagers alike often wonder,"How does psychological dependence differ from doing something repeatedly just because you like to do it?" Ongoing debate over the roots of addiction and dependency seeks to answer questions of this sort.
Many researchers suggest that the essence of dependence lies in the limiting of personal freedom. We are all dependent on food, water, and other people to live—no one is completely self-sufficient. However, what distinguishes drug dependency
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