Marijuana is prevalent, available and potent. This makes combating the drug extremely difficult, as the addict is almost certain to encounter temptation almost everywhere he or she goes. A heroin addict might be able to avoid specific street corners or dealers, but someone addicted to marijuana might seem to be surrounded by the substance at all times. If the addict spends time with others who use, the process of recovery could be even more difficult.
In addition, many people who use marijuana might not truly believe that the drug is addictive. Many online articles claim that marijuana is natural, and quitting is easy for anyone to accomplish. At Rehab International, we work hard to combat these misconceptions. We know that marijuana addiction is real, and we know that it’s hard to overcome alone. We can refer you to treatment programs that work, and we hope you’ll call us if you or someone you love is addicted.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA):
- About 204,000 high school seniors used marijuana on a daily basis in 2004.
- Almost 10 million kids report they can buy marijuana within a 24-hour period.
- About 4.5 million students report that they can buy the drug within an hour or less.
- Since 1992, marijuana has increased in potency by 175 percent.
- ( More: Marijuana Statistics)
How Marijuana Works
People smoke marijuana in cigarettes and pipes, or they might bake the leaves into food. When the marijuana enters the body, the active ingredient (THC) moves into the brain and seeks out specific THC receptors. According to an article published in Psychology Today, the THC receptors and the opioid receptors tend to work closely together and exchange information. There’s no question that opioid drugs like heroin are addictive. That’s been proven in thousands of studies. Since marijuana works on many of these same pathways, it’s extremely likely that marijuana is also addictive in much the same way.
People who try to stop taking marijuana might feel:
- Desperate for the drug
- Restless and unable to sleep
These symptoms are not life-threatening, but they can be severe. According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, severity of withdrawal symptoms for marijuana addicts was similar to severity of withdrawal symptoms felt by nicotine addicts. These severe symptoms could drive an addict back to using, just to make the symptoms stop.
Fundamentals of Marijuana Rehab
Unfortunately, there are no medications that have been specifically developed to treat marijuana withdrawal symptoms. That doesn’t mean that marijuana users must face all of their withdrawal symptoms without assistance. Sometimes, addiction specialists provide medications to help the addict sleep, and sometimes medications that ease depression or anxiety can be helpful. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms tend to subside after about a week, but medications can certainly make this week easier for the addict to endure.
Often, teens who use marijuana also use other drugs at the same time. A study published in Addiction looked for this link and found that people who used marijuana more than 50 times per year were 59.2 times more likely to use other drugs than people who did not use marijuana 50 times per year. If an addict enters a marijuana rehab but discloses that he or she is also taking other drugs, addiction treatment specialists might provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms caused by those other drugs, allowing the patient to completely detoxify from all substances.
Once the addict has detoxified, meaning that the drugs are removed from the system, he is ready to deal with the hard work of rehabilitation. Often, people who abuse marijuana have developed significant habits and rituals concerning their drug use, and until those issues are addressed, the addict is unlikely to stay free of drugs. Therefore, the goal of most therapy programs is to help the addict learn new habits and behaviors in order to stay away from marijuana and other drugs.
Marijuana addiction is often chronic and hard to treat. According to an article published by the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA), only 50 percent of people who enroll in a marijuana rehab program achieve sobriety after two weeks. Out of those who do complete a treatment program, only half stay clean within the following year. These relapse rates may seem depressingly high, but they do point out the need for family members and friends to stay involved in treatment programs at every stage, helping the addict make the needed changes and stay committed to therapy programs. Those who stay involved in therapy for longer periods of time tend to stay clean for longer.
Most addiction programs require the addict to spend time talking to a mental health counselor. Marijuana rehab programs are no different in this regard. In addiction counseling sessions, the addict has a chance to learn more about the addiction and how it changes the addict’s mind and thinking processes. For teens who are addicted to marijuana, this sort of information might be incredibly helpful, as they may not have access to this information from their family members and friends.
In addition, addiction counselors often ask the addict to answer these questions:
- What time of day are you tempted to use drugs?
- Who encourages you to use drugs?
- Which emotions cause you to reach for drugs?
- Where are you likely to find drugs?
Once the addict has a clear picture of the who, what, when and where of addiction, she can begin to brainstorm solutions for those situations. Role-playing can be helpful here, allowing the addict to practice responses to common temptations.
Inpatient Treatment Programs
People addicted to marijuana might benefit from inpatient treatment programs. According to the NIDA, marijuana addiction caused 17 percent of inpatient admissions in the United States in 2008. In an inpatient program, the addict moves out of his or her home and stays in a treatment facility for a period of weeks to months. During an inpatient program, the addict is asked to participate in counseling sessions with a therapist, and might also be asked to participate in group meetings with all the residents of the program. People who have been addicted to marijuana for quite some time and have tried to quit before, might benefit from inpatient programs, as they’re unlikely to find any sort of drugs available during their stay. It’s a way for the person to focus only on the treatment, far away from the temptations caused by home, friends and neighborhood.
Some people find they need a longer treatment program in order to truly make major changes to their lives. A stint of a few weeks might not provide the sort of help that an addict needs to make changes that will stick. Residential communities, also known as sober living communities, can be a real help. The addict lives in the community for a lengthy period of time and has a series of recovering addicts as roommates. The addict must take periodic urine tests and participate in group recovery meetings. He might only be allowed to leave the community for work- and therapy-related obligations. A residential community can work as a bridge between inpatient programs and independent living, allowing the addict to pick up new skills and practice them for many months while he is not surrounded by the temptation to begin the addiction again.
Some people recovering from marijuana participate in strictly outpatient programs where they meet with counselors and attend meetings to deal with their addiction, but they still live at home and participate with work and friends as normal. Often, the addict’s therapist requires the addict to provide periodic urine testing, so the therapist can ensure that a relapse has not occurred.
The Role of Family
It’s important to stress that family must play a role in helping the marijuana addict make changes that will last a lifetime. Addiction is a chronic disease, and it’s particularly difficult to recover from an addiction to a substance like marijuana that is so incredibly plentiful and easy to find. Families should strive to have an open line of communication with the addict, allowing her to talk about cravings for drugs and the feelings those cravings cause. Families can also provide encouragement to help the addict stay in therapy. Perhaps spouses and children of adult addicts can leave inspirational notes in the addict’s pockets or in the addict’s car. Reminding the addict that you care, that you know beating addiction is hard, and that you believe the addict can overcome, could make a world of difference in terms of recovery success.