While the world continues to face the challenges that come with a culture so linked to alcohol, marijuana waves from the sidelines. Almost all Western societies are faced with the risks of alcoholism. Does marijuana have the potential to be a new framework of recovery for alcohol abuse? Find out more in this article.
When it’s Friday night and you need to wind down from a stressful working week, what’s more satisfying than a glass of wine with workmates?
Alcohol has been and still is heavily engrained in Western culture as a way to socialise, celebrate and relax. But the unfortunate contingency that comes with this much-loved pastime is alcoholism and addiction, which is a very real thing.
In fact, Europe has the world’s worst record when it comes to bad health and premature death as a result of alcohol (certainly not a thing to celebrate). It is no wonder that so many people are turning to marijuana as a substitute, if not a method of recovery.
But is marijuana treatment actually a step in the right direction? Is replacing one substance with another the same, or does the lack of side effects of marijuana use mitigate any problem with its use? There are so many questions to be answered when it comes to how marijuana plays a role in recovering from alcoholism.
Alcoholism can relentlessly destroy a person’s life, from their relationships all the way to their physical health. And while conventional methods such as rehabilitation work, they only show long-lasting effects in around 30% of cases.
Exploring the possibility that cannabis can mend the wounds of alcohol is definitely worth it, when we consider those statistics. Let’s take a journey into marijuana’s potential as a life saver for those living with alcoholism.
What do the studies say?
It’s extremely hard to diagnose yourself with the problem of alcohol, because using it is such an accepted part of our culture. Most people don’t even know they have a drinking problem until it’s much too late, which is probably why it’s such a huge contender when it comes to recovery.
However, research has made some very interesting discoveries when it comes to how people with addictions (especially to alcohol) relate to marijuana.
A study published in the Harm Reduction Journal in 2009 consisted of 350 medical marijuana patients. This study was overseen by Dr Amanda Reiman at the University of California, and what she uncovered was surprising. When asked the question, “are you choosing to use cannabis instead of something else?” over half of the respondents admitted they were using it instead of alcohol.
Dr Amanda Reiman went on to do further studies after understanding some of the reasons that people made their way to medical marijuana.
She found similar results in those who were trying to get off illicit and prescription drugs. The reasons that they were seeking alternative treatment in marijuana were also the same: less adverse side effects, better management of withdrawal symptoms and the overall lower withdrawal potential with using cannabis.
It seems almost crazy that in the USA, states that have legalized medical marijuana have reported an overall reduction of 25% in opiate overdoses.
That is a huge correlation that can’t be ignored. And that’s not to say that weed is the way out of an overdose or of alcoholism. But it makes it very clear that those who are experiencing symptoms of addiction (whether to alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs) find some relief by using marijuana.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
The symptoms of withdrawal and marijuana’s possible relationship to them (rather than to alcoholism itself) are extremely important when we talk about this topic.
We have been trying to understand why people get addicted for a long time, and it’s still a human psychology that baffles us. There is not necessarily a link between marijuana and alcohol addiction itself, but rather, a great remedy for withdrawal symptoms.
The more consecutive days that someone consumes alcohol, the worse the potential withdrawals get – and it’s directly proportional.
In fact, for chronically addicted alcoholics, symptoms of withdrawal can be as bad as seizures. Not a pretty sight for those who are unprepared for the task. People have even died from alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal is usually the hardest part of stepping away from addictions. The body’s dependency on a substance causes it to go into a mild shock when the substance has been taken away. In the case of alcohol, the symptoms can be nausea, headaches, irritability, insomnia and tremors.
They all happen to be symptoms that marijuana is extremely good at treating. This might explain why the weed is so good at helping people get off the bottle.
Is substituting marijuana for alcohol a scapegoat for true recovery?
All of what we’ve mentioned so far leads to the inevitable question: is swapping one for the other real recovery?
It’s a tough question to answer, because it mainly boils down to what we consider an addiction to be. One scheme for recovery is total abstinence, which is often encouraged in rehabilitation programs. But those who are opting for the marijuana method are obviously not going by the framework of abstinence.
That’s not to say that abstinence doesn’t work at all. But most people who are looking for help for alcohol addiction are doing so because their addiction has severely negatively impacted their lives.
Now, if switching to something that is less harmful, doesn’t damage a person’s relationships, helps them get on with life, maintain a job and be happy – is that on the same level as alcoholism?
There’s no question that someone might get addicted to weed in the process of getting un-addicted from alcohol.
But the effects might be far less severe. And this is what will mean everything to the person in question. In general, the withdrawal potential for marijuana is much less than that of alcohol. They do exist, but they simply don’t pose the same risk.
We can think of marijuana treatment as harm reduction in the case of alcoholism. Perhaps it is not a fully recovery from addiction, but, according to studies, is a less harmful drug of choice, to both the individual and society.
It is unfair to say that marijuana doesn’t at least help a person pave the way for a healthy recovery from alcoholism that doesn’t rely on any substances. It absolutely has the potential to do so and can offer the body some positive impact at the same time (such as having neurogenerative properties).
But even if it creates another dependency, if that dependency doesn’t negatively impact the life, then it simply might not be viewed as a problem.
Famous doctors such as Dr Sanjay Gupta and Dr Oz have also supported medical marijuana as a special kind of reefer rehab for opiate addictions. Perhaps marijuana can work in the same fundamental way to treat the withdrawal of alcoholism as opioids.
It might be unconventional, the way that marijuana might save a life in this particular circumstance. But that doesn’t make it any less valuable. It might not be everyone’s way, but it proposes as a way nonetheless.