The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that there are 22.2 million past-month users of marijuana, which makes this the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.
People who abuse marijuana may find it difficult to curb or stop the abuse once it has started, but the reality is that marijuana addiction can be conquered. That kind of healing can only come about through a comprehensive treatment program that progresses in a systematic, step-by-step fashion. These are the steps involved.
Step 1: Understand the objective.
It can be hard to overcome an addiction when you are not even sure what it is or how it works. Knowledge, when it comes to addiction, really can be powerful. After all, addictions thrive on ignorance and misinformation. People who abuse marijuana may be continually engaged in a form of self-deception that keeps the harms of marijuana hidden. Healing can begin when people get honest about what marijuana is and what it can do.
Marijuana is a natural product that is made from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the marijuana plant. That organic material is dried, and that dried matter can be rolled into a cigarette, burned in a water pipe, or added to food items. Adding a few extra chemicals can also turn marijuana leaves into a sticky wax or paste that can be smoked or vaporized.
People who abuse marijuana can convince themselves that the use is safe and acceptable because the drug is a natural product. Unlike other drugs that are produced in laboratories, marijuana is grown in gardens. To some people, that is a sign of marijuana’s benign nature.
In reality, marijuana is quite dangerous. As an article in Psychology Today points out, marijuana may not cause symptoms of withdrawal like opiates do, but the drug can cause persistent changes within the cells of the brain. Those changes can make quitting very difficult. People who are habitual and destructive users may come to believe that they cannot function without marijuana. They are not weak; they have been damaged by the drug.
When an addiction is in place, people can move from regular marijuana use into heavy marijuana use. They become accustomed to the impact of a hit, and they need bigger and bigger hits to get the same feeling of happiness and joy. A study highlighted by Medical News Today suggests that heavy marijuana use can cause a form of brain damage. In this study of 11 adults, researchers found that heavy marijuana users had smaller releases of dopamine, and they had less activity in the portion of the brain that deals with learning.
This is a serious study that highlights just how much damage a marijuana habit can do. This is not a benign drug. It is a drug that has the ability to cause great harm.
Step 2: Recognize when help is needed.
Understanding the risks of marijuana could help people to make better choices concerning their drug use and abuse. But for people with addictions, the time to make choices has passed. They already use, and they already use too much. People like this need help, but they may not know it.
Addictions might be easy enough for outsiders to spot. They may be able to compare a user’s current behavior with past behavior and see how things are either better or worse. But clinicians have a very different metric when it comes to addictions. Knowing what rules clinicians use could help people to spot their own addictions, even if they have denied them in the past.
According to Medical News Today, the criteria for drug dependence includes the following:
- Tolerance, or the need to take more marijuana to receive the effects that were once achievable with a smaller dose
- Withdrawal symptoms, or a feeling of discomfort due to the absence of marijuana
- Loss of control, or an inability to regulate how much marijuana is used
- Inability to quit
- Devotion of time, or the willingness to spend resources getting marijuana, using it, or recovering from its use
- Lifestyle disruption, or a loss of social, occupational, or recreational opportunities due to a need to spend time on drugs
- Continued use, even in the presence of consequences
A person with an active marijuana addiction can seem obsessed with the drug. Every moment of the day is devoted to the drug, and even though the drug causes harm, the person continues to use.
Other Schedule I Drugs
Step 3: Examine rehab options.
According to NIDA, there are several behavioral therapies that have shown promise, in the treatment of marijuana addiction. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one such treatment. Here, people with an addiction learn more about how to enhance a feeling of self-control, so they can stop their drug use and deal with the problems that often occur in tandem with drug use. CBT is a simple yet powerful therapy, and it is just one of the options open to people with an addiction to marijuana.
In addition, researchers are hard at work on understanding how to help people recover through the use of medications. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a small study showed that a synthetic form of the active ingredient in marijuana was capable of reducing drug cravings, and that stood up against a placebo drug. These sorts of studies are preliminary, and there must be many more before researchers are clear about how chemistry might help in recovery. But it is possible that some people could benefit from a pill or a shot as they recover from a marijuana addiction.
Rehab work can be done in an inpatient program, in which people with addictions move into the facility and stay there for a specified period of time. It can also be done on an outpatient basis, in which people stay in their homes and get help in a series of appointments.
In general, people with strong or longstanding addictions are encouraged to enroll in inpatient programs, as are people who have tried and failed to recover in the past. Inpatient can also be a good option for people who cannot escape marijuana temptations at home. In rehab, they might finally get sober for good.
Step 4: Continue to work.
While rehab can work wonders for people with active addictions, a stint in rehab cannot address all of the problems and dysfunction that an addiction can cause. There is so much to learn and so much to change. Often, that means people need to enroll in ongoing programs so they can continue to hone the skills they learned in rehab and pick up new skills along the way.
Some people get the help they need through support groups. In fact, this is a very popular form of ongoing addiction care. According to estimates from the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) General Service Office, more than 117,000 people consider themselves active members of AA.
Some people go to AA meetings, and they talk about their addiction in a general way with others who have similar problems but with a different substance. Others seek out specific 12-Step meetings made just for marijuana abuse. Either could be a good option.
In addition to follow-up care, people in recovery need to nurture that recovery, and that means they need to embrace healthy habits. Those habits might include:
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating nutritious foods
- Engaging in social activities
These are healthy habits that can allow people to stay on track with sobriety, even when a craving for marijuana hits.
Marijuana addiction recovery begins with an admission. People with a problem need to recognize that the problem exists. Then, people need to enroll in programs that can help. These steps make it clear that recovery is, indeed, a process. But those who have been through this process can attest that it is a process of recovery, kindness, and healing. If you are addicted, get help today. You will be glad you did.