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I have been smoking weed for 6 years and want to quit and go back to school. When I try to quit I feel horrible. What is going on? How can I quit?
–Reggie, age 21.
You are not alone. Approximately 14 million teens and adults use marijuana on a regular basis. Due to the high potency of today’s genetically engineered marijuana, the level of impairment, dependence and withdrawal is significantly higher than in years past.
Withdrawal symptoms for marijuana are protracted over weeks and are similar to those experienced by people who quit cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs. Recent research found that nearly two-thirds of marijuana users experience a pronounced withdrawal syndrome. Symptoms include anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings and sleep problems, and for some, bizarre and colorful dreams.
As a result, the acute symptoms of marijuana withdrawal cause significant distress and can last up to two weeks. Long-term symptoms, which include anxiety, anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure), fatigue, memory problems and boredom can last for several months. As a result early recovery is like roller-coaster ride and marred by frequent relapse.
When I first quit smoking weed I felt depressed and agitated for about a week. Then I was just bored and restless most of the time. I made myself do some positive things, but life just seemed “blah”, like watching black and white television. So I smoked some weed, and for a few hours, the color came back on and life became interesting again.
Restlessness, boredom and just feeling “blah” are normal in the early stages of recovery. It takes a little time for the brain to recover and for the color to come back on—but it does come back. However, restlessness and boredom are significant relapse triggers.
What to Do
- Commit to a recovery program. In early recovery you wont always “feel” like gong to a 12-step meeting or support group —go anyway. In early recovery, good feelings follow right actions.
- Be accountable. Talk with trusted others about your recovery on a regular basis. This can be 1 or two supportive friends, clergy or 12-step sponsor. Make plans to meet regularly or have regular telephone contact.
- Establish daily discipline and routines. Decide what time you will rise and go to bed each day. Schedule your daytime activities, family times, sleep times, recreation and quiet times, as well as your daily 12 step meetings.
- If you still can’t quit, get into a treatment program. Your family doctor can direct you.
Quitting weed is a difficult process. It takes time to feel better. Establishing daily discipline and accountability will help you stay on track. Remember the good feelings derived from recovery are not instant. But unlike the temporary highs of addiction, the rewards can last a lifetime.
Written by Dr. Drew Edwards. All rights reserved