I'm 21 and addicted to pot -- but I'm doing just great!

Should I be worried? I'm performing at a high level and enjoying life, but I smoke pot all the time.

By Cary Tennis

Published April 2, 2008 10:55AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

It seems you have a soft spot for addicts -- understandably so. Well, I'm writing to you because I'm having a bit of a problem with an addiction -- I just can't seem to stop smoking pot. I know, I know, marijuana doesn't really count ... It always makes me think of the joke in "Half Baked" -- I'm not out there sucking dick for weed! -- and that, I think, is part of my problem.

I've become dependent on this drug, and I'm thriving. I'm a 21-year-old student, in my final year at a reasonably challenging liberal arts college. I've been plagued with stress my entire academic career (late nights in the library, occasional experiments with academic performance enhancers to get everything done, the usual drill), except for my senior year, which is supposed to be my most stressful because we have a required senior thesis and there are very high expectations that we will perform on almost graduate-school levels. It's an intense and rigorous school, and for the first time in my life I feel like I'm handling it well, excelling even. I'm keeping up with all of my course work in addition to producing what is shaping up to be a pretty well-thought-out senior thesis. Best of all, I've been keeping a reasonable work schedule -- again, for the first time ever -- and I've been able to spend a significant amount of time relaxing.

And there is the problem. While I've been doing this, I've also been almost constantly high. I mean, I still maintain certain boundaries -- I never go to an academic class and don't normally work while high -- but my free time, the ultimate thing that is keeping me sane through a very stressful academic time, has been entirely spent smoking pot. Well, that and watching science-fiction television. While I've always been an occasional smoker, I've never smoked this amount -- it really is almost constant, usually starting at night, but sometimes, like today, I'll smoke a joint after I wake up, a way of enhancing my morning ritual of checking the Internet and washing my face -- not specifically time I would be productive is how I rationalize it to myself when I do these things. It's getting to be kind of an expensive habit, but I don't go out and spend money elsewhere like I used to – I mostly cook simple meals at home, and I have stopped shopping (something I think I used to do compulsively when I was stressed, because I used to buy a lot of things I never ended up wearing).

I'm maintaining good relationships with people who matter to me, people it's hard and complicated work staying on good terms with (a pantheon of exes, pretty much), and occasionally making time for people outside my immediate social circle. I don't go out all the time, because I've become more or less anti-social, but I do still go spend time with several people. Plus my thesis takes me out of the house to do research. So I'm not becoming some stoned shut-in. All in all I think I'm doing really well. School's great, my personal life is great, I'm taking better care of myself than I ever have before (we're talking real adult stuff; I floss and wash my face twice a day!). I even quit drinking six months ago, a drug that really does turn me into an unpleasant person (a lot of tears and uncomfortable statements -- it really was necessary). I'm just smoking all the time. That's the one, the only, problem.

Am I deluding myself because I'm stoned all the time? Honestly, that's my first thought. But things really are going that well. I can tell because I still get upset by things, I still do have days where I cry about my thesis or whatever, but I tend to move on from those moments pretty quickly. But those are the times that I smoke the most, or when I'll break my will and smoke at a weird time of day. It's just something I feel is helping me right now. Should I feel wrong for this? Weak? I do have moments when I'm reminded that I smoke way too much, and I feel guilty. But there's nothing driving me to quit; honestly, I haven't even tried. It could be the easiest thing ever, and this crisis could be unnecessary, but other than some vague concerns about my health and the future, and a bit about how my parents would feel if they ever found out, I'm not overly interested in stopping right now. Cutting down, definitely, and I've been working on that recently. It's not like I plan to do this forever -- once I graduate, I'm moving, possibly to another country where this sort of reckless behavior wouldn't be tolerated. So I'm just hanging on to it for the time being.

I guess my question is: Is that OK? I feel all right. Better than all right. Is that enough? I mean, presuming I don't care about the possible heath side effects (I'm a smoker anyways, so I clearly have an abusive relationship with my body) -- that isn't my issue. I'm concerned about the dependence. I've been considering talking to a counselor at school, but it just seems so silly when things are going so well, overall. So, I thought I'd ask you.

School Toker

Dear School Toker,

I do have a soft spot for addicts, don't I? But is it so apparent that you would say, "Understandably so"? Do I exude the aroma?

I guess I do. I'll always want to go out behind the library and smoke some weed. But it just stopped working for me. I couldn't "maintain." Plus it was all tied together: If I smoke pot, I need a beer. If I have a beer, I need a cigarette. It's all tied together. I had to quit.

I do admire people who could make it all the way through college and graduate school stoned! But it does seem to catch up with you.

One reason is that while it is one way to handle stress, it's often not the best way to handle stress. When you get high, you're handling the immediate stress, but you're not dealing with what's causing the stress.

That might be OK if it was a one-time event. Say you nearly get hit by a car. You could smoke a joint and say, Wow, I feel better now, thanks, do you have any oranges?

But a lot of stress comes from ongoing situations. Say you have a court date.

Court is the worst place to be stoned -- except for funerals. Court is bad and pot makes it worse. You know how the taste of an orange or Milky Way bar is magnified by the high? So the unpleasantness of lawyers and judges is magnified by the high. It is a thing to be avoided.

So once you get stoned you stand a good chance of blowing off your court date.

It is axiomatic that the blowing off of a court date leads to stress increases.

So here is an idea. Diversify. Don't get all hung up on the idea that you have to stop smoking pot. Instead, start gathering stress-reducing techniques that you can use in cases where getting stoned won't do. What you need is a repertoire.

Branch out. Do some research. Look into meditation. Meditation can relax you quickly, make your mind feel refreshed, help you focus. In fact, I'm going to go meditate for five minutes right now.

OK, I'm back. I'm not stoned. My mouth isn't dry. But the world looks a little brighter. I just meditated for five minutes. If I have to appear in court, I think I can do it. Not that I have any warrants. Not that I am the kind of person who would have warrants. I'm just saying, if.

Build other stress-reducing things into your life. Yoga is good. Breathing is good. A few deep breaths can work wonders. There are many stress-reducing techniques. Build a repertoire.

Then, once you have some other tools to use for stress reduction, maybe you will want to look at your marijuana dependence. You could start by substituting other methods and see if it doesn't balance out a little.

One more thing. Concerning marijuana and funerals. These are words to live by: Never get high before a funeral.

The Best of Cary Tennis

"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.

What? You want more advice?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice for publication.
  • Make a comment to Cary Tennis not for publication.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary TennisFOLLOW @carytennisLIKE Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Academia College Since You Asked