How to Help a Marijuana Addict
Marijuana continues to be the most widely abused illicit drug. The increased state-level legality of marijuana may be promoting perceptions of lower risks and higher benefits among high school students. In recent surveying, one third of 10th graders and 44% of those in the 12th grade reported having used the substance in their lifetime, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Should these upward trends in use continue, our country will almost certainly begin to see higher numbers of people negatively impacted by marijuana use and abuse.
Help for Marijuana Addicts
People that require assistance in managing their use or ending use of marijuana completely have a number of effective treatment options. They include:
- Patient education.
- Talk therapy interventions.
- Motivational incentives.
- Family education.
- 12-step supports.
There are no approved medications that can aid in recovery from addiction to marijuana directly, however pharmaceutical management - with more appropriate psychiatric medications - may be helpful if marijuana use is a method of 'self-medication' for an underlying mental health issue.
Approaching a Loved One
If your loved one is struggling with a marijuana addiction, you may have a deep feeling in your gut that something is wrong; however, when you try to broach the topic they may be angry, defensive, and in denial. In the case of marijuana, changing laws and legalization may hinder your loved one's ability to see that there's any issue with their use. This makes expressing your concern and finding out just how bad the problem is extremely challenging.
If you are worried about your loved one and their marijuana addiction, the best way to approach them is with empathy and compassion, preferably at a time when they are not intoxicated. Try to avoid judgment—remember, addiction is a disease that requires treatment.
Here are some tips to keep in mind as you approach your loved one about getting help:
- Be on their side: Avoid using blaming language. Show them that you care about them and are worried about them. Help them find their own reasons for wanting to get treatment.
- Be specific: Remind them of the specific consequences they have already suffered from their addiction and how it is negatively impacting you or other loved ones.
- Ask if they are willing to get treatment: Listen to what they have to say and remain calm; avoid emotional pleas. If they are not ready yet, don’t push it. After a little time passes, you can try approaching them again about getting help.
If your loved one is not ready to seek treatment, set healthy boundaries so that you are not enabling their addiction. Enabling can include helping with rent, buying them food, provide babysitting services, or making excuses for them to relatives, friends, employers, etc. Remember that addiction is a sickness and do not fall into a routine of helping them buy more drugs. Letting your loved one experience the natural consequences of their use may help them see the need for treatment.
Multiple options are available for treating marijuana addiction. Since withdrawal symptoms are seldom dangerous, detox programs are not strictly necessary. Generally, treatment will occur in either a residential rehab or outpatient setting depending on the needs and wants of the individual and the recommendations of the treatment team.
Treatment may utilize:
- Psychoeducation. As mentioned, there are many misconceptions about marijuana use. An essential treatment component will be educating the addict on the facts and dangers of the substance.
- Therapy. Many helpful therapeutic options work for substance use and addiction. They can occur as individual and group therapies related to only addiction issues or mental health features that are underlying. Willingness to experiment with different modalities will boost success.
- Family education and therapy. Education and therapy are crucial for the supports of those addicted, just as they are for the addicts themselves. This helps to create a safe environment for the user that sets appropriate boundaries and limitations without being too critical.
- 12-step/community supports. Outside of professional treatment options, someone with a marijuana addiction can receive assistance from peer supports in the form of 12-step meetings and other community programs. These will provide recovery information from those with personal experience.
- Drug testing. Because it can be detected in urine screens four weeks after last use, these tests can act as strong deterrents, especially when incentives are given for success.
Whether people just try it once or make a habit of it, lifetime marijuana usage is incredibly common in the United States: over 110 million people - more than one third of the population - report having ever used marijuana.
What to Look For
Every person is looking for something different in their treatment program. Luckily, there are a range of treatment centers available to cater to a person's individual needs. Before you call a treatment center, prepare beforehand by making a list of questions that you want to ask. To help get you started here are some questions you could consider:
- What type of insurance do you take?
- How does the treatment center address other needs such as co-occurring medical or mental health issues?
- Does your center offer detox as part of treatment?
- Do you offer family therapy? Couples therapy?
- What is the facility like?
- Is there ongoing support after I leave treatment?
What is important to you may not be important to another person, and vice versa. Make sure you investigate programs according to your must-haves and not another's.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
Despite reports to the contrary, marijuana can be addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports:
- One in 11 (0.90%) adults that use marijuana will become addicted to it.
- This rate increases to 1 in 6 (17%) for those that begin use as teenagers.
- People that use marijuana daily have addiction rates between 25% and 50%.
The THC in marijuana activates cannabinoid receptors in the brain leading to effects like:
- Euphoric feelings.
- Distorted perceptions of reality and time.
- Decreased anxiety, initially.
Many users will seek to replicate these feelings. Eventually, the user may develop a tolerance--means that higher qualities or quantities of the substance need to be ingested to produce the same high as when use of the drug first started. Attempting to overcome the phenomenon of tolerance with increasingly larger amounts of marijuana may place raise one's risk for experiencing negative effects, as well as compound the intensity of said drug effects.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Marijuana use can bring about a variety of unintended consequences. Whether the substance is used infrequently or in large amounts for extended periods, negative effects can occur.
Problematic signs of marijuana use include:
- Thinking problems. When use begins as a teen, marijuana affects the way the brain develops. This can reduce the way one thinks, learns, and solves problems. In the short term, it can impair decision-making skills and decreased coordination. In the long term, the substance is related to lower intelligence, as measured by IQ tests.
- Physical health problems. Smoking the substance can lead to a list of lung-related issues including chronic respiratory illness and cough. Additionally, all marijuana use can result in higher heart rate for up to 3 hours after use--potentially increasing likelihood of a heart attack and other cardiac issues in some individuals.
- Mental health problems. Paranoia, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking are just a few of the negative effects that can happen during use. Long-term use can lead to higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide, especially in teenagers. Marijuana use has even been linked to the exacerbation of psychotic symptoms in those with schizophrenia.
Other signs of marijuana addiction include:
- Lack of motivation.
- Smelling like the drug.
- Weight gain.
- Possession of/ displaying of paraphernalia.
The presence of withdrawal symptoms can also indicate marijuana dependency and addiction. These include:
- Appearing grouchy or irritable.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Lowered appetite.
- Stomach pain.
Am I Addicted to Marijuana?
For those struggling with a marijuana addiction, use of the substance will typically continue even after leading to impaired daily functioning or producing other unwelcome strains to life. If your marijuana use has negatively influenced these facets of life, you may have an addiction:
- Personal and professional relationships.
- Legal issues and contact with law enforcement.
Note: Addiction can still occur even if the substance is legal or prescribed to you.
Just because it does not have the negative reputation and extreme effects of other substances does not mean that it is safe. Addiction can and does end with negative consequences. Get help today to stop the cycle.
How to Help Someone with Alcohol or Illicit Drug Addiction
Help for Prescription Drug Abuse
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Drug Facts: Marijuana.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Drug Facts: Marijuana.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs.
- American Addiction Centers. 2018.