“Dr. Beck, my grandfather started drinking during World War II. My Dad says he became an alcoholic. I’m using more marijuana than my parents realize and I think I’m getting addicted to it, just like my Grandpa became addicted to alcohol.”

This is a situation that is coming up often in my practice, since many of my patients have been using much more marijuana during the pandemic than they had before. In fact, in some part of the United States, sales of marijuana have spiked with people reporting that their use of marijuana has increased because of stress.

What makes this even more worrying is that marijuana is likely to make anxiety worse and many people learn this the hard way, as their anxiety deepens and they finally realize that this could only be because of marijuana use. If you or a family member are wondering whether they could be addicted to marijuana, this short questionnaire from drugabuse.com may be helpful in deciding.

As individuals and families continue to suffer from the stress of isolating at home, discord in households is increasing. People often turn to drugs and alcohol to manage stress, just needing to get through this difficult emotional time. In North America, it is marijuana and alcohol that people are using during this period. As we emerge from our homes into the larger world, many of those who have been using these substances will likely begin to struggle because of a newly developed addiction.

They will be horrified, likely ashamed and feeling guilty for what has happened. Like the patient I mentioned at the beginning, they will have insight that their marijuana or alcohol use could be problematic and they will want help.

Research following other disasters – both natural and caused by humans – confirms that problematic substance use does increase as part of our response to the stress of these calamities. Research also reminds us that when someone expresses concern about their substance use, as my patient did, there is an opportunity to help them address their concern before it becomes too serious.

“You sound worried about this. How can I help?”

This simple statement, made with concern but without judgment, can be the beginning of their healing. In the next few weeks and months, to avoid the worst mental health problems, and to ensure that people will reach out for help without shame, we will all have to learn to offer help, without judgment but with deep concern.

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