It would be ideal if marijuana addiction were a bit like strep throat. People who were afflicted could take a series of pills, wait a few days and emerge feeling healthy without taking any other steps. Unfortunately, marijuana addiction is a bit more like heart disease. In other words, marijuana addiction is often considered a chronic condition that is rarely truly “cured.” It takes a lifetime of work to keep a flare-up or relapse from striking.
Put plainly, in order to conquer a marijuana addiction, the recovering addict must make a vow to stop using, and then reaffirm that vow each and every day. It might sound like an easy enough thing to do, but for many marijuana addicts, keeping that vow proves incredibly difficult. In fact, according to an article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 71 percent of addicts returned to marijuana use within six months of choosing abstinence. They may have entered detoxification programs with the best of intentions, but they were unable to maintain their sobriety as the days and weeks passed.
If marijuana addiction is persistent and relapse rates are high, what’s an addict to do? The answer lies within a targeted treatment program. Here, the addict is given a series of tools to use to combat addiction and relapse. It’s a bit like an extended coaching session, where the addict can learn how to live an entirely new life that doesn’t include marijuana use. If the proper therapies are provided, and the addict completes those therapies with an open mind, true healing can take place. It may take work, but recovery from marijuana addiction is possible.
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Fundamentals of Treatment
The specific methods used to treat a marijuana addiction can vary dramatically, but the fundamentals of a successful addition treatment program tend to remain the same. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these key principles should lie beneath any successful treatment program:
- No treatment works for everyone. The program must be tailored to meet the needs of each addict. Those needs can also change with time, so the plan must be reassessed from time to time.
- Therapies should focus on the mental, physical and emotional needs of the addict. The addiction forms only one part of that person, and all other aspects of the addict’s health must also be addressed. Marijuana addicts, for example, might need therapies to help their lungs heal.
- The addict must be monitored regularly, so medical professionals can spot a relapse and deal with it as soon as it occurs. Often, addicts must submit to periodic urine testing, just to ensure that they haven’t returned to drug use.
- Therapies must be easy for the addict to access.
- Remaining in the program for an adequate period of time is crucial. Dropping out of treatment could lead to a relapse.
- Addiction is complex, but it’s also treatable. Everyone who participates in the program must have this positive attitude and transmit it to the addict.
It can be difficult for families to ascertain whether or not facilities adhere to these principles, but there are a few red flags to watch for. Programs that aren’t customizable aren’t always ideal, as they can lock the addict into treatments that simply aren’t right for his or her particular situation. In addition, programs that don’t provide advice or support on mental health issues unrelated to addiction might also be suspect. Often, people struggling with a marijuana addiction also have a mental illness such as depression, and that issue must also be conquered during rehabilitation.
Inpatient or Outpatient?
The first decision a family must make is whether or not the marijuana addict will benefit from therapies given in a facility, or whether the addict should receive treatments while he or she continues to live at home. Sometimes, addiction counselors can step in and provide advice, based on how well the addict endured the detoxification process. Other times, families make their decisions based on their insurance policies. While some policies may provide detoxification coverage, they may not provide funds to help the addict complete a rehabilitation program.
Researchers have performed a series of studies to determine whether or not it’s more effective to treat addicts in inpatient or outpatient programs. The results have been a bit unclear. For example, a study of alcoholics published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, found no difference in abstinence rates between groups of people who received outpatient care and people who received inpatient care, although the researchers mention that people who were heavy users of alcohol tended to benefit a bit more from inpatient programs than people who had more moderate usage. This seems to indicate that, once again, the treatment that works for one addict may not work for another addict and that the program chosen must meet the needs of the addict as an individual.
Therapy sessions form the cornerstone of treatment for marijuana addiction. A therapy session involves a significant amount of coaching, allowing the addict to change his or her attitudes involving addiction and become an active participant in recovery. The addict often works with the same therapist for months or even years, and sessions can be held daily, weekly or monthly, depending on the needs of the addict.
Some counselors use a form of talk therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Here, the addict is asked to think about why he or she uses marijuana, and what seems to trigger a craving for the drug. Then, the addict is asked to do role-playing exercises and think about what he or she will do in certain situations to keep a relapse from occurring. This form of therapy has been proven to be remarkably effective in helping marijuana addicts kick the habit. According to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, CBT was associated with low rates of drug use, even in addicts who were heavy users before therapy.
Many counselors prefer to use a form of therapy called Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET). Here, the addict is pushed to accept addiction therapies, and the addict is asked to make a plan to change. The first session in this therapy technique is quite long, and the addict is forced to take a long and hard look at the addiction and the effect on his or her family. Then, in subsequent sessions, the addict is asked to take control and commit to change. Sometimes, family members attend these sessions alongside the addict, providing additional support and encouragement. The relative benefit of this form of treatment is its speed. Some therapists provide just a few sessions, and then encourage the addict to simply follow the plan and check back in only when something goes wrong.
In a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, addicts who had nine sessions stayed sober much longer than people who only had two sessions. In other words, this type of therapy might be quick, but it does take time to truly take hold. Most addicts will need multiple sessions.
Some addicts transition out of counseling sessions and into community groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. These groups can provide many benefits:
They’re free. Addicts who have spent their health care benefits on detoxification and therapy can attend these meetings without worrying about costs.
They’re run by peers. Some marijuana addicts feel a sense of isolation if they’re surrounded by people who don’t quite understand their cravings and their struggle. Spending time with other addicts in recovery can provide a sense of community.
A mentor is involved. Addicts sometimes find themselves in compromising situations where their sobriety is challenged, and they feel a bit lost and desperate. Narcotics Anonymous provides a sort of parental figure who is always on call to step in and provide needed support during these times.
They’re ritualized. Some addicts need to feel a sense of accomplishment as they move through their recovery. Group sessions often involve a series of steps that the addict is asked to complete. When an addict completes those steps, he or she is publicly rewarded in a meeting. This sort of validation can be incredibly motivating for some addicts.
Yet another study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that these meetings can be quite helpful in assisting addicts to stay sober. Researchers looked at addicts who were patients of the US Department of Veterans Affairs medical system. Patients who participated in group programs were more likely to stay sober a year after detoxification than patients who did not. It’s clear that these programs can provide real help when it comes to beating addiction.