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The Ultimate Guide to Helping Those in Need of Addiction Recovery from Cannabis and Other Substances


What one might call cannabis, others would refer to as ganja, hemp, marijuana, weed, or one of the 1200 other slang names used for the drug. Regardless of how you choose to acknowledge it, there’s only one word that can be used to describe an uncontrollable urge to use it – addiction.

Cannabis doesn’t have the same reputation as most drugs in the United States. Many view it as a gateway to being “young, wild, and free.” This is even bolstered by Hollywood’s love of “stoner comedies.” The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as recently as June 2019, 11 states have legalized recreational marijuana use with 33 states having policies in place allowing for medical usage. While public opinion continues to grow in favor of legalization, this increase is mirrored in the number of growing cases of cannabis use in the country.

According to a 2019 CBS News Poll, the support for legal marijuana use currently sits at 65%, an 14% increase from 2014. This ties into the 2018 Key Substance Use in the United States report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that estimates that 15.9% of the population, nearly 44 million people, admitted to using cannabis in 2017. This number has been steadily increasing each year since 2002.

With the growing number of Americans trying and using marijuana, it is important to address addiction. It is equally necessary to stress that there is nothing shameful about experiencing it. Addiction affects everyone regardless of gender, age, race, or other socioeconomic factors. While many would prefer to focus on the magnitude of the “harder” drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, the percentage of those trying and using cannabis is far higher. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that the use of other drugs had plateaued or decreased over the past decade while marijuana use has continued to increase since 2007.

The previously mentioned 2018 report by SAMHSA revealed that “past-month substance use” among people aged 12 or older was at 60% which accounts for over 164 million Americans. Depending on the substance, addiction comes with some glaring effects and behaviors. While cannabis addiction might not present as extreme as other drugs, there are ways to identify it whether within yourself or your loved ones.

Recognizing Cannabis Addiction

It is necessary to emphasize that all cannabis use is not cannabis abuse. The majority of Americans who use marijuana can control their use of this drug and truly use it recreationally.

  • Red or “bloodshot” eyes

  • Anxiety and/or paranoia

  • Increased appetite

  • Weight gain

  • Decreased motivation

  • Decreased coordination and impaired motor function

Dependency and addiction are different. While “dependence” anchors around developing a physical tolerance to a substance, “addiction” refers to the “continued use of the drug causing a change in brain chemistry.” This is important to note when recognizing cannabis addiction and differentiating it from cannabis use.

According to a report on cannabis use disorders, a person must exhibit at least two of the 11 symptoms or behaviors outlined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to be diagnosed with a “cannabis use disorder.”

The symptoms of cannabis addiction can be categorized into a series of patterns that affect social, behavioral, and physiological factors. If you recognize any of these symptoms, it’s time to get help.

Overcoming Drug Addiction

Once you’re aware of drug addiction, it can be immediately overwhelming. Whether you’ve noticed the symptoms in yourself or a loved one, there are a series of steps one can take to ensure a permanent and successful life away from addiction. What are they?

1. Decide to make a change

It’s impossible to fix a problem if someone questions its existence. A large part of the decision that comes with making a change is the identification that there is a problem. This process doesn’t begin and end with swearing off the drug. Rather, it requires making a series of other steps towards drug-free living.

2. Seek treatment

One of the most important steps to overcoming drug addiction is seeking treatment. Programs range from residential options to outpatient treatment. According to NIDA), successful recovery happens when treatment is at least 90 days long. Tools for finding a suitable treatment center can be found in the section “Finding a Treatment Center Near You.”

3. Learn new habits and identify triggers

To prevent a relapse, it is necessary to learn new habits and identify triggers. Relapse is common with addiction, and changing a few social and behavioral traits can lead to a successful recovery. Managing stress and coping with cravings is the key to developing resistance to refrain from using the drug.

4. Find a strong support system

Overcoming addiction is easier with the help of your loved ones. Whether they are family or friends, having their support can be an effective motivator for getting and staying sober.

5. Build new connections with sober individuals

Cannabis-users easily form friendships and relationships with other users. To promote healthy conditions towards recovery, one might find it necessary to step back from previous friends and form sober social bonds.

Expert Advice on Cannabis Recovery

Nicole Arzt is a licensed marriage and family therapist with extensive experience in working in all levels of substance use treatment from acute detox to long-term outpatient care.

Nicole Arzt, M.S.

Substance Use Treatment Therapist

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