Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

He’s Stopped Drinking… Now He’s Smoking Pot

Grandmother extending arms to daughter & children

silvi2157 reports that her Loved One experienced a major wake-up call. He made it through detox after skating on the edge of life and death with his drinking. Now he is smoking pot daily, to manage anxiety. How concerned should she be about this new trend?

Illustration © Eleanor Davis

my grandson (21) made it through detox, though he could have died and was transported to ED for one/one care. He told me "I don't want to die grandma.” I think he was literally scared straight. Is there such a thing for someone who has been drinking excessively since he was 15? to just stop drinking after detox? I asked his counselor about this. She said every one is different, but relapse is high with out immediate after care treatment. at minimum attending AA. At first he said that drinking was just fun with friends but fast forward to today; it got to the point he couldn't stop drinking without experiencing life threatening withdrawals. He was drinking 2 pints of straight whiskey a day. I praise God he made it through detox, Its going on 30 days since he had his last drink before walking into detox. I helped in getting him set up with out patient treatment right away and a MH therapist for his anxiety. They even set him up with a peer, who was to take him to his first AA and get him involved in the community. He only participated for two weeks. He said he has no cravings or desire to drink again; and that he is managing his anxiety by smoking pot on a daily basis. On the one hand, that is huge progress. Stepping down to what could have turned into a severe alcohol disease to smoking pot. But I think he is smoking in excessive. I am trying to convince him to go back to his MH therapist for advice. Perhaps manage the use by prescription. Is there such as thing as too much marijuana? While it seems to help his anxiety I think it affects his motivation (lack of motivation). :-/ Shouldn't I just be relieved he is no longer drinking, and leave well enough alone?

During active addiction, the decision to stop using a substance may happen over and over again. But many people in recovery will tell you there was a moment when the decision to stop was stronger – qualitatively different, perhaps all encompassing – to the point where the cravings left. Instead of coming and going, after a moment like that, the motivation to be sober finally sticks.

There is a book called Jolted Sober that describes this. The decision is profound. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but when it does, it helps the person move through early recovery. Michael Pollen talks of this in his book on the clinical experimentation with psychedelics.

Perhaps your grandson was scared straight.

So it isn’t necessary for that “attending AA at a minimum” requirement to be set in stone. It’s a start, and he did try it out, but there are many ways to nurture sobriety. AA provides the benefits of a solid place to go everyday, to hear about sobriety, to learn the skills of staying sober, and to participate and build a community of concern. It’s easy to see how, for some, this can be invaluable. At least he’s been exposed to this option.

That your grandson stopped drinking is wonderful news. Yes, perhaps he relapses but you have helped him figure out and engage with the treatment system. This is significant. He will never again be naïve to the help that is out there should he end up in trouble.

Cannabis is a drug like any other drug. It can activate the addiction cycle in the brain. It does curb motivation. It is also a lot safer than drinking 2 pints of hard liquor daily. AA’ers have a term for what your son is doing, it is called the “marijuana maintenance plan.”

At 21, your grandson is in danger of hurting the development of his brain, which experts say doesn’t end until the mid 20s, maybe longer. The evidence is strong that cannabis on the developing brain is not good.

At 21, your grandson needs to fire things up and get out there in the world. It’s a critical time for working on your future.

As his grandmother, you did a wonderful job of getting him the treatment he needed for alcohol. He now has a mental health therapist. It is up to your grandson to be clear about what he is doing with the pot. Can he moderate? Or is the pot going to take over (yes, a person can smoke too much pot).

To embrace the CRAFT method, whether you see the pot use as problematic or not, your role would not be to nag him about it. It just isn’t an effective way to get your message across. Considering this huge shift he has just made, try to be patient. Take some time to be supportive and see how this goes.

To be CRAFTy, you’d continue building a bridge, and be prepared for a moment when your grandson reaches out to talk to you about his pot use. I would hope his mental health clinician is aware of the pot smoking… could (s)he work to help him moderate? In this way, he could learn if and when the pot gets in the way of being productive.

In Learning Module 8 we talk about a wish or a dip. Can you be on the lookout for this change talk in your grandson, and suggest moderation with the help of his clinician?

Perhaps your grandson says something like “I need to go to the career center.” But he doesn’t go. Maybe he has said this repeatedly but still doesn’t go.

This is change talk: he wants to do something but is struggling with doing it. Perhaps you say something like:

“I am so proud of what you have done to stop drinking. I wonder if the pot is zapping your energy. You know, grandson, people who want to moderate are much more successful when someone is tracking and working with them. If the pot is working for your anxiety, great… AND it will be important not to let it take over and zap your willingness to do the hard things life throws at a 21 yr old. If you want to keep using pot, I think it is important to find a middle ground. I wonder if your therapist could help you with the idea of moderating. Could you do be a favor and consider asking her?”

The clinician should be helping with talk therapy and linking your grandson to a psychiatrist for the anxiety if it is clinically warranted. The clinician can also partner with your grandson to help him try moderation of the pot. If the pot becomes its own addiction, the clinician should address it.

The support measures he has in place are a welcome change. You helped him through dire circumstances and he is in the process of putting things back together in his life. His life must feel very different to him right now after this episode. At 21, there is still plenty of learning ahead for him. You’ll need to find a healthy balance between being there to support him and giving him space to find his way on his own two feet. He needs to know he can continue to trust you. And he is also going to need to learn how to trust himself to make sound decisions about his own life. This is a start. It is amazing that you have helped him get to this place.

Thank you for caring for your grandson. Well done!  



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)