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Marijuana
Addiction

Marijuana
Addiction

Let’s face it. Whether you use it, like it, or think it should be legal, marijuana in America has gone mainstream. But you probably knew that. Marijuana use has become almost as commonplace in the U.S. as alcohol. In fact, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 24 million people in the U.S., almost nine percent of the total population, were currently using marijuana. That makes marijuana the most popular illicit drug, and third in popularity (behind alcohol and tobacco) in overall drug use – legal or illegal – in the nation. Given its popularity, it’s surprising how little many people know about marijuana: its effects, both short- and long-term, and its dangers. And that includes addiction, as well as a host of potential problems associated with pot use and pregnancy, learning and memory, impaired driving, and more.

If you have a family member or close friend with a marijuana addiction issue, though, you’re keenly aware of the devastation that pot can cause. Fortunately, treatment for marijuana addiction is available at rehab centers all across the country. Here’s a look at marijuana addiction, and what you can do to get the help needed for your loved one.

Let’s face it. Whether you use it, like it, or think it should be legal, marijuana in America has gone mainstream. But you probably knew that. Marijuana use has become almost as commonplace in the U.S. as alcohol. In fact, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 24 million people in the U.S., almost nine percent of the total population, were currently using marijuana. That makes marijuana the most popular illicit drug, and third in popularity (behind alcohol and tobacco) in overall drug use – legal or illegal – in the nation. Given its popularity, it’s surprising how little many people know about marijuana: its effects, both short- and long-term, and its dangers. And that includes addiction, as well as a host of potential problems associated with pot use and pregnancy, learning and memory, impaired driving, and more.

If you have a family member or close friend with a marijuana addiction issue, though, you’re keenly aware of the devastation that pot can cause. Fortunately, treatment for marijuana addiction is available at rehab centers all across the country. Here’s a look at marijuana addiction, and what you can do to get the help needed for your loved one.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

When most people hear the term “drug addiction” they think of heroin or some other life-threatening substance. Rarely does marijuana come up in the drug addiction conversation. Yet many experts believe that marijuana use by many rises to the level of dependence and, for some, results in actual addiction. This is certainly the opinion of the federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

“Marijuana use can lead to the development of problem use, known as marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. Recent data suggest that 30 percent of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.”

The NIDA goes on to explain that marijuana use disorder becomes an addiction when the individual is unable to stop using pot, “even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her own life.” The point here is that, while marijuana use may not be as dangerous as other drugs, like heroin, meth, cocaine – or even alcohol – that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. And dependence and addiction are among marijuana’s many harmful effects.

Marijuana Use and Adolescents

Currently, there appears to be no hard evidence of serious long-term health issues for adults from chronic marijuana use. The same cannot be said for adolescents, however. As the NIDA points out:

“Marijuana also affects brain development. When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.”

Research is ongoing to determine if these effects are permanent. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that marijuana can be harmful in the long-term for younger users.

Signs of Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are plenty of signs and symptoms of its existence. Among the most common are:

  • Increased tolerance: As with most other addictive substances, long-term regular use of marijuana results in greater tolerance to its effects. Which means that with regular use comes the need to consume more and more marijuana to achieve a similar high. So, if you notice that you or your loved one is consuming greater amounts of weed and/or getting stoned more frequently, you may be dealing with a marijuana addiction issue.
  • Inability to quit: Addicts often attempt to quit using on their own. If you or your loved one makes an effort to stop using pot and fails, that is likely a strong indicator of addiction.
  • Staying high: How we spend our time matters. If your loved one spends all or most of his or her waking hours getting high, waiting to get high, or trying to find weed to get high, then there’s a strong possibility of a marijuana addiction problem.
  • Inactivity: Closely associated with staying high is the drastic reduction in participation in social, recreational, and physical activities. Everyone knows the stereotype of the stoner who does nothing but sit on the couch all day staring at the TV set. But the fact is that individuals constantly stoned often replace their once active lives with totally inactive ones. If your loved one has turned into a couch potato, weed addiction may be to blame.
  • Substantial issues with school or job performance: Slacking off at school or work is another red flag. In some cases, impairment to cognitive function and memory lapses from marijuana addiction can lead to job loss or flunking out at school.
Withdrawal signs and symptoms

One major indicator of drug addiction is the appearance of unpleasant withdrawal effects when the user stops using. While the effects of withdrawal from cannabis addiction are relatively minor compared to those of harder drugs, they are nonetheless real. Common marijuana withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping, tension, depressed mood, decreased appetite, and drug cravings. Physical manifestations of marijuana addiction withdrawal my include headache, sweating, fever, shaking or tremors, chills, and abdominal pain.

How to Help Someone Abusing Marijuana

Helping a loved one with a marijuana addiction problem can be difficult, especially if that love one doesn’t think he or she has a problem, or doesn’t want help. The irony is that denial of a drug problem is often an indicator of the problem’s existence. This section offers advice on how to tell if your loved one has a marijuana addiction issue, and what you can do to overcome any resistance you may encounter when you reach out to help.

Just as there is a distinction between marijuana use and addiction, there are also differences between the signs and symptoms associated with immediate use and long-term use. The signs of long-term use are discussed above under the “Signs of Marijuana Addiction” heading. Physical and behavioral signs of immediate marijuana use often include:

  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Poor coordination or dizziness
  • Slow reaction time, lethargic behavior, acting “dazed and confused”
  • Dry mouth
  • Constant coughing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Euphoria
  • Difficulty with short-term memory, solving problems, “thinking straight”
  • Extreme hunger, the “munchies”
  • Uncontrollable laughter or laughing for no apparent reason
  • Anxiety and/or paranoia

In addition to these physical and behavioral signs, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Constant use of eye drops to cover up bloodshot eyes
  • Increased use of gum, mints, and/or mouthwash
  • Presence of paraphernalia, such as rolling papers, bongs, pipes, baggies, etc.
  • Skunky smell in the house, on clothes, or on the individual
  • Increased use of cologne, perfume, incense, air freshener, etc.

There are, of course, lots of possible, non-drug related reasons for the existence of any particular one of these signs. But if you observe more than one or two, and you have reason to believe that marijuana use may be their cause, the chances are you’re right.

When it comes to helping an addict, it’s crucial to know how to approach him or her about their problem. Here’s what you can do to increase your chances of success when talking to someone about marijuana addiction:

  • Plan ahead: Have a good idea of what it is you want to say ahead of time. Arm yourself with some objective knowledge and facts about marijuana addiction. The more you know, the less likely it is that your loved one will feel like they’re facing a personal attack.
  • Speak to the addict when he or she is sober: This one may be hard to do, but if you can arrange a time when the individual will not be stoned, the better your chances of getting your message across.
  • Expect resistance: Resistance to your initial message is to be expected. Don’t let it throw you.
  • Don’t be critical: Speak from a place of objectivity, concern and caring. Judgment and criticism will likely result in resentment, or even hostility. And you don’t want that.
  • Be receptive: Say what you need to say, then step back and let your loved one speak. Being open and receptive to the addict’s feelings – especially their fears – will make him or her much more likely to accept your concerns.
  • Have treatment information on hand: If you’re lucky, your loved one may be ready to consider getting help. Don’t’ let the moment pass you by. Be prepared with some (preferably written) suggestions regarding treatment options.
  • Offer support: Let your loved one know that you’ll be there with your full support when they’re ready to start down the long road of recovery.

A drug intervention is a structured process in which the addict is confronted by family members and friends with the goal of eliciting the admission of an addiction problem and commitment to seek professional help. The intervention process is often employed after less formal attempts at convincing an addict that he or she needs help have failed. Interventions are often planned and conducted with the assistance of a professional interventionist, who provides a structure that allows participants the opportunity to describe to the addict the damaging effects of his or her addiction on their lives. Addicts are then offered an opportunity to enter rehab. If the addict refuses help, he or she is explained the negative consequences they will face for that refusal.

Many local rehab centers offer professional intervention services. You can contact the Association of Intervention Specialists for assistance in locating a professional interventionist in your area.

One of the very best ways to help someone with an addiction problem is to connect them with support organizations and services. There are a lot of them out there, too, including local 12-step meetings and peer groups, as well as national-level resources like Marijuana Anonymous and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For example, SAMHSA’s National Helpline (1-800-662-HELP) provides information on a range of treatment related services, including referrals to local rehab programs, community-based support groups, and other related organizations. The helpline is free, confidential, and available 24-hours-a-day.

Two great online resources for finding rehab programs are the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry’s Practitioner Database and SAMSHA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Other useful resources include SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery (Christian-based support), Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others (JACS), and Women for Sobriety.

What to Expect from a Marijuana Treatment Program

As with dependence to any substance, the best chance at achieving long-term sobriety from marijuana addiction begins with a patient assessment and, if necessary, supervised detoxification, followed by completion of a reputable rehabilitation program and commitment to a solid aftercare strategy. Fortunately, both detox and rehab programs treating marijuana addiction can be found in every corner of the nation. Locating a program that best suits the individual needs of your loved one, however, may take a bit of time and effort.

Treatment options for marijuana addiction are similar to those for dependence to alcohol or other drugs. Those options include both inpatient residential and outpatient programs of varying lengths and requirements. Choosing the right option will depend on several factors, such as length and severity of marijuana use, work and family obligations, and – to be honest – ability to pay. In many cases, the patient will complete an inpatient program and then step down to outpatient treatment as part of an overall rehabilitation strategy.

At the heart of all marijuana addiction rehab programs is therapy, specifically individual and group therapy sessions focused on providing individuals with the problem-solving, coping, and lifestyle management skills needed to avoid relapse and build positive, satisfying drug-free lives. Therapy sessions also address any present co-occurring mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, as well as addictions to alcohol and/or other drugs. Therapy is often augmented by a variety of supplemental programs, such as drug testing and 12-step based support group participation. In addition, many rehab facilities offer a range of alternative and wellbeing activities, like yoga, exercise, art and music therapies, massage, and more.

Upon completion of the primary treatment program, clients are typically discharged with a written aftercare plan that normally includes continuing participation in 12-step or other peer support programs in their local communities, and may include periodic follow-up counseling sessions.

  • Detox: Withdrawing from Marijuana
  • Visiting Someone in Rehab
  • Addiction Therapy: Participating in Treatment
  • Withdrawal from marijuana addiction is not strictly dangerous or life-threatening. It can be quite uncomfortable, though, resulting in a number of unpleasant symptoms (see above). These symptoms typically begin to manifest within the first eight hours or so following the last cannabis use, and are most intense during the first week to 10 days thereafter. Currently, there are no FDA-approved drugs available specifically for treating marijuana addiction withdrawal. However, medications such as anti-depressants and sleep aids may be used to help alleviate discomfort during the withdrawal process.

    The initial assessment will determine whether or not an individual requires a medically-supervised detoxification. Factors taken into consideration include length of cannabis use, amount of consumption, and presence of other abused substances or co-occurring mental issues. The major advantage to supervised (as opposed to unsupervised) detox is that it provides the patient a safe and supportive environment away from the negative influence of certain persons and substances.

  • Every rehab center has its own policies and procedures regarding visits with clients by friends and family. In most cases, however, such visits are allowed and even encouraged as they tend to support the loved one’s efforts at sobriety. If you are invited to visit a loved one in treatment for marijuana addiction, and – this is important – you feel your visit would be a positive experience for your loved one, definitely go. Just be sure you understand the facility’s rules for visitors and follow them to the letter when you’re there.

  • Coping with a family member with a drug dependence issue can be emotionally draining and cause serious – sometimes permanent – damage to the family unit. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that a family’s active involvement and support in the rehab process may be the key to your loved one’s success at finding and maintaining sobriety. Rehab centers understand this, and many incorporate structured programs and activities involving the family into their treatment strategies.

    If your loved one is attending a marijuana addiction rehab program that offers family-based treatment programs, strongly consider participating. The benefits can be significant. Family members will become educated about substance abuse and addiction, and learn practical ways to help their loved one stay sober. In addition, long-standing problems regarding such inter-family issues as trauma and substance abuse by other family members may finally be addressed and dealt with. In short, family participation in the rehab process may result in healing for more than just the individual family member in treatment.

Life after Marijuana Rehab Programs

Completion of a rehab program for marijuana addiction is an extremely important start on the road to recovery, but it is only the start. Successful recovery requires a continuing commitment to sobriety by the addict, backed by the active support of friends and family. If you have a loved one in recovery, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Create a drug-free environment: Returning home after rehab can be challenging for the recovering addict, with lots of reminders around of previous substance use that can act as triggers to relapse. Removing those reminders can go a long way toward helping your loved one maintain sobriety. So, make your home a drug-free environment – and that includes not using yourself.
  • Encourage participation in support groups and sober activities: Attending 12-step and other peer group meetings, as well as participating in drug-free social activities, can play a crucial role in the recovery process. Encourage your loved one’s participation and, if invited, try participating yourself.
  • Be patient: The recovery process is likely to include more than a few setbacks, with relapse a strong possibility. Maybe the most important thing you can do to support your loved one’s recovery is to be patient. Show you support through those inevitable tough times. And if there is a relapse, try to be nonjudgmental and encourage a quick return to sobriety.
Find Personal Support

Addiction isn’t only tough on the addict, it can also take a real toll on the health and wellbeing of those around him or her. If you’re dealing with a loved one’s addiction problem, be sure to take the time to take care of yourself. Don’t ignore your other family members and friends. Seek out the advice of a good therapist if you feel the need. Support is also available from community and church groups, as well as organizations such as Marijuana Anonymous, Families Anonymous, SMART Recovery Family & Friends, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), Learn to Cope, Mar-Anon Family Groups, and others.