Adults with a long history o..." /> Adults with a long history o..." />

Anxiety, Child Abuse May Be Risk Factors for Marijuana Abuse

Close-up image of person's fingers holding lit joint on blurred green outdoor backgroundAdults with a long history of marijuana abuse may be more likely to have a long history of anxiety, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The study also uncovered a link between childhood bullying and maltreatment and later use of cannabis.

Uncovering Marijuana Use Patterns in Early Adulthood

The study analyzed data on 1,229 participants in the Great Smoky Mountains Study. This long-term study gathered data on residents of 11 counties in and around North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. Compared to the rest of the United States, people of Latin American/Hispanic descent are underrepresented, and indigenous Americans are overrepresented in this area.

Researchers focused on participants who enrolled as children in 1993 and have now reached their thirties. They tracked data on mental health, childhood experiences, educational and career attainment, and use of alcohol and drugs.

More than three-quarters (76.3%) of participants did not have symptoms matching criteria outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) for a cannabis use issue between the ages of 19-30.

The remaining participants fell into three patterns of use:

  • Limited users were 13.3% of participants. They used marijuana early in life, but their used declined over time.
  • Persistent users were 6.7% of participants. These individuals had ongoing chronic issues with marijuana use.
  • Delayed users accounted for 3.7% of participants. They did not abuse marijuana in early adolescence or adulthood but became habitual users between the ages of 26-30.

A Link Between Mental Health and Marijuana Use

Limited users reported the highest levels of childhood instability and family trauma. When they left their homes, their marijuana use declined, suggesting a link between family difficulties and using marijuana as a coping tool. They were less likely to have children at a young age, and they had higher educational attainment than persistent or delayed users.

About a quarter of persistent users had an anxiety diagnosis in childhood (27%) or between the ages of 19-21 (23%). They were more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system and more likely than other groups to be diagnosed with a mental health condition. They also reported that the majority of their friends used drugs. This, researchers say, points to a strong correlation between mental health issues and marijuana abuse.

Delayed users were significantly more likely to be bullied by other children or mistreated by their caregivers in childhood. More than half reported some form of mistreatment. Compared to persistent users, they had lower rates of alcohol and drug use, as well as anxiety. The study’s authors speculate this group might have had fewer peers in late adolescence and that this led them to delay their use of marijuana.

The study highlights the role of different risk factors for marijuana abuse and points to the need for targeted interventions based on a person’s risk factors and life experiences.


  1. A quarter of problematic pot users have anxiety disorders, many since childhood. (2017, October 24). Retrieved from
  2. Hill, S., Shanahan, L., Costello, E. J., & Copeland, W. (2017). Predicting persistent, limited, and delayed problematic cannabis use in early adulthood: Findings from a longitudinal study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2017.08.012

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Grace

    November 4th, 2017 at 6:21 AM

    My thoughts are that when children have experienced this kind of trauma and abuse at the hands of someone in the home when they are growing up, then it only makes sense that their knowledge of how to cope is skewed and they will look to anyone or anything that can ease the pain for them. For many marijuana is the answer. It isn’t right or wrong, they are just soothing in a way that makes them feel better. Wouldn’t you want to do that if you had encountered abuse at a young age and don’t you thinks that it is probably right that it would manifest in different ways in different survivors?

  • jillaina

    November 7th, 2017 at 2:13 PM

    so what came first- anxiety or the drug usage?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.