Please help me talk to my relative about his marijuana problem...
November 28, 2011 2:01 PM   Subscribe

How can I talk to my relative about his marijuana problem?

My brother has a marijuana problem. I don't know how to talk to him about it.
I used to smoke (I haven't for almost a year) and I attribute part of my health and mental well-being to my cessation of what was to me a harmful marijuana habit. I understand substances are different for everybody but I'm beginning to see very similar patterns about my brother's detrimental habit to mine and when I talk to him about it he always tells me how can YOU talk advice to me if you were once a pothead and "to each his own". He's very self-aware about his problem and always has this way of "beating" me to whatever I'm about to say about it as if to shield himself from my advice because I have nothing new to say to him he doesn't already know. He denies that pot is his main problem - though he admits it's a problem.

My brother works in a stressful work environment and is not making a lot of money. He has little drive to seek something else but he's endlessly verbal and aware about what he intends to do once he finally stops smoking pot and passes drug tests to get the jobs he wants to apply for. This has been going on for two years. He says he's "quitting next month" and two years have gone by like this. When confronted with this, he says stuff to the effect of "this or that got in the way; I'll quit next month".

He's very defensive about his constant smoking and I'm afraid he's going to have to hit bottom to finally get what's wrong with smoking an eighth per week like it's just a lifestyle choice with little bearing on his attitude toward life and those around him.

What sort of steps do you suggest a sibling can take to helping his brother even see he may have a problem? Are there some books I can give him? Youtube videos?
Do you suggest therapy/professional help? (I've told him about this but he says even if he were willing to try it he doesn't have enough money for this nor health insurance).

Thanks in advance MeFi.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The best step you can take is to get yourself into an Al-anon group.
posted by tomswift at 2:05 PM on November 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

You are right - he has to hit rock bottom.

I have dealt with various addictions in various family members.
How can you talk to him? You can't.

All you can do is: Do Not Become His Co-Dependent.
That is the only thing. Tough love. Al-anon might help.
But mostly, you have to wait until he is ready to change.
posted by Flood at 2:20 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Narcotics anonymous is a choice for people who are concerned about loved ones. You will be welcomed even if you are not an addict yourself. Sadly, it is usually the case that individuals need to want to change before they are ready to accept help. Be there for him and be ready to help him when he wants your help, but until that time comes you can't force someone to change their mentality or their behaviour.
posted by Nightman at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2011

Or AA, as some seem to be suggesting.
posted by Nightman at 2:25 PM on November 28, 2011

Then again, having a shitty job is a great reason to smoke pot.

Is he defensive about his smoking, or is he defensive in response to your approach to him?
posted by rhizome at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Have you heard of the stages of change model of addiction/recovery? To me, it sounds like your brother is in pre-contemplation. Sure, he knows he *could* change, but at the moment, he doesn't want to and certainly isn't ready to hear that he needs to.

It also sounds to me as though you're actively trying to convince him to change, and that this isn't working out. I don't think you have to wait for your brother to "hit bottom", but I think you do need to remember that change is only going to work if *he* initiates it and *he* wants to change. At that time, you can be a great support and resource for him. Until then, I think it would help both of you if you listened to what he's saying and took it seriously, without homing in on addiction. What does he think his main problem is? What's a problem in his life that he wants to fix right now? What does he need/want from you?

You can't change your brother. You can't make your brother change himself. You can change your relationship with your brother. I'm hoping for the best for both of you.
posted by epj at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you suggest therapy/professional help? (I've told him about this but he says even if he were willing to try it he doesn't have enough money for this nor health insurance).

So, it sounds like *is* interested in getting help? I can't tell from this if he was trying to say he was interested but didn't have the money, or if he was conveying disinterest and the money was just an excuse.

If he is interested but doesn't have the money, could you help him get the money?
posted by cairdeas at 2:49 PM on November 28, 2011

Is his smoking solo or social? It seems like that would change the approach significantly.
posted by maryr at 2:53 PM on November 28, 2011

My brother works in a stressful work environment and is not making a lot of money. He has little drive to seek something else but he's endlessly verbal and aware about what he intends to do once he finally stops smoking pot and passes drug tests to get the jobs he wants to apply for.

Marijuana is a major stress-reliever for a lot of people -- the amount and frequency of use is often directly connected to stress. That means that you may be asking him to forego the primary way he manages job stress, without addressing the stressor itself.

He may or may not have a problem with pot, but he clearly has a problem with stress. Since he's defensive about smoking, I think it makes sense to back off on that for now, and address the root of the problem rather than making everything about marijuana. For instance, does he really have to "stop smoking pot and pass drug tests to get the jobs he wants to apply for", or can he find something less stressful that doesn't test? Can he change his schedule and/or work responsibilities to make things easier? Can he afford to quit his crappy job for a month or two, even if it means sleeping on couches? Are there other ways he can manage stress, perhaps even in conjunction with weed: meditation, exercise, therapy, games, a new hobby, group activity, etc?

Once the issue of non-stop stress has been addressed, he may reduce his marijuana use on his own, or he may not -- but either way, he'll be much better off, and that'll make it much easier for him to get help.
posted by vorfeed at 2:55 PM on November 28, 2011 [20 favorites]

I think that is why the OP is asking rhizome, to find a better way of approaching the situation.

I can relate as I had a step father who was brilliant, but who also became pretty addicted to smoking pot every day as a means to feel better rather than work to make a shitty situation better. He never quit and smoked near daily for neigh on 35 years. He also passed away last year from a number of things, but included was incredibly poor respiratory health which made it near impossible to effectively intubate him. It was truly a wasted life.

Having a shitty job is a great reason to smoke once in awhile, not o out your life on hold for years. I can be an addiction like any other.

Yeah, there is no great advise. I would work on making it clear you are willing to help when he needs help pulling his shit together, but also to somewhat distance yourself just a little. Ultimately, change is internally initiated. right now there are a million excuses not to stop, because it is working on some level for him. It has to either stop working for him, or the price has to be too high.
posted by edgeways at 3:00 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have many, many friends with similar issues in their past. I have gone to many, many 12-step meetings with these friends. I also do a lot of criminal defense work, a large part of which results from issues related to substance abuse. My experience has taught me that people like your brother has to want to quit before it will ever happen. The proverbial "hitting bottom" is the usual catalyst, but sometimes epiphany may be the cause. In either case, it's not likely you'll be the author of any change.

You should probably consider a 12-step program yourself, and certainly try to avoid spending time with your brother when he's high. If the topic of his drug use comes up, you are probably better off simply telling him, "Quitting helped make my life better; when you're ready to quit too, I'll be happy to help." Don't bother arguing with him, because the addict can justify almost any kind of behavior, as long as it's consistent with using.
posted by Hylas at 3:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I may be an outlier here but he sounds exactly like my brother...except my brother doesn't smoke pot, or drink, or do anything else. I know you may see this as a pot addiction but he's working and just stalling on getting something better. Are you sure that it is the weed holding him back or is it just the excuse he uses to shut you up? Maybe helping him work on his resume, qualifications, or cover letter would be more constructive.
posted by boobjob at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Er... people like your brother have to want to quit...
posted by Hylas at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

A forum devoted to this topic.
posted by telstar at 3:10 PM on November 28, 2011

You stopped when you decided to. Is there any reason you think he won't stop for reasons similar ro yours?
posted by zadcat at 3:49 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nothing like being preached to by the converted...He won't listen until he is ready to listen. Let him know you are there to help when he wants it and let him alone for now.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a vicious cycle, and as the child of substance addicts I can tell you that no websites, books, videos, or therapy in the world will make him stop until he decides that he is no longer comfortable living this way.

He's unhappy, but he's undermotivated. Instead of attacking the weed, perhaps consider helping him tackle what he actually considers to be his major problems.
posted by sm1tten at 3:59 PM on November 28, 2011

It's not entirely clear what his situation is here from the information you've provided, other than he's smoking more weed than is healthy and that he's holding himself back. If he's not leaning on anyone for financial support or otherwise not putting anyone at risk, then there's not a lot of negotiating room to get him to alter his behavior by imposition from the outside. If you or your parents are supporting him then it may be time to lay down the law about sobering up.

Have you tried getting him out of his situation for a week or so? Going somewhere in a new environment (where he doesn't have any weed) can be a catalyst for new habits. But, it's a tricky equation. You don't know if he stops with the weed then some other obsession or vice will fill that void and keep him equally underproductive.

I hate the term "hitting rock bottom", but perhaps he does need a knock on the head to help him find his way clear of his habit. Like it or not, the well may well indeed be poisoned for you to try to talk him out of smoking weed since he's strongly associated you as a smoker. Mostly, though, what you can is try to love him and show that you're truly interested in him having a brighter future.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:28 PM on November 28, 2011

Plenty of people have crappy jobs and plenty of people smoke weed. How old is he? People get stuck sometimes. Eventually they figure a way out. Is he neglecting his kids?...His elderly disabled mother? I can't really see what's going on that's so bad other than he makes you uncomfortable.

There are plenty of great jobs you can get without taking a drug test. In fact, fewer great jobs require drug tests than crappy jobs do.

If he's in a crappy job, that's his struggle. That's his thing. I'm just now getting out of a crappy job. It takes a while. It's like being in a labyrinth in one of those movie scenes where the audience sees the maze from a bird's eye view and the character is stuck. I know I'm mixing metaphors, but eventually, something gives. Something changes and then you get out. My job has become so fucked up that I'm forced out. This past year, I've been that character in the labyrinth. Now, I feel like I've grown a lot in the process of getting out.
posted by shushufindi at 4:38 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are plenty of great jobs you can get without taking a drug test. In fact, fewer great jobs require drug tests than crappy jobs do.

Additionally the piss test cleaners you can buy work well too. I've smoked pot for quite a few years, and have always passed them with flying colors. Honestly, I don't think your relative complaining about his job is related to smoking pot; pot is a relaxant, not end up in the alley blowing random guys for a hit type drug. Sorry for the graphic description but my dad said that to me when he first found out I was smoking, I'm now much more successful in my early 20s then he ever was. So pot != loser.
posted by lpcxa0 at 5:14 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would say that his objection to you attempting to counsel him ("you were once a pothead too") is reflective of his impression that you are trying to judge him. He is claiming that you have no moral high ground here. Which is true, but irrelevant, since you are not trying to judge him but to advise him. In fact it is your history as a partaker that makes your advice valuable: you see him making mistakes that you made, and you wish to help to avoid these mistakes.

Making this clear to him may or may not bring him around (paranoia being one possible side effect of chronic cannabis use), especially if you have a history of acting judgmentally toward him. But it can't hurt.
posted by kindall at 5:28 PM on November 28, 2011

Marijuana is both the miracle drug and one of the most insidious drugs.

Miracle because it's relatively non-toxic. Insidious because smokers get stuck in ruts for years without noticing. It is medicinal -- in that it's a pain killer -- yet pain is often what motivates us to change.

I have known a few smokers in my time and it's the similar pattern. Stressful job, can't quit now, will quit soon.

There are two "problems", the first is the stress of life, and the second is the coping mechanism of marijuana. It reminds of a perspective on cigarette smoking or alcohol. People with stressful jobs or lives inhale or imbibe to 'cope' with the stress. In doing so, they are really ignoring the stress. The stress is still there, but the substances deaden the perception of that stress, thus making it more manageable.

Thus, his position is not surprising. He has worked himself into a life that is survivable -- in his perspective -- by deadening the little part inside him that says, "this sucks". Without the herb, it fully sucks. With the herb, it sucks to a manageable level.

There are two paths here. He can either quit and sort it out. Or he can become a functional drug user and just continue. Lots of people do the latter. And lots of people do the former.

What I have seen is that the quitting involves aspiration -- something worth quitting for. In his world, herb may be his best friend. It is always there, always supporting him and keeping him safe. Thus, he needs something else to support him and keep him safe. A job, a wife, a hobby. Something which excites him and relieves stress more than the herb. For many people, it's a career job, rather than a job job. If there is a path forward and the work is exciting and interesting -- and the people are a good fit -- he may not need the herb one day. He will be so entranced by the future, that smoking will seem like what it is, a relatively juvenile escape.

There is also the strong possibility that he is dealing with depression, as many people who are addicted to the herb are. So let us think that the herb is the symptom. What is the cause? He has to become happier with his life. If it is depression, then it would be good for him to find a way to relate to a world larger than himself.

The programmes are one vehicle. Running is another. But something that will take over for the herb.

And as his brother, I would caution against too strong a focus on the herb. That will just reinforce the herb as the thing that works, and you as the thing that is annoying. I would almost say ignore the herb completely, and, if you can, show him a better life. A life that makes him happy. So happy that he will put down the herb.

I guess it comes back to the fact that the herb is not the problem, nor is it the solution. He's probably stressed, depressed, lonely, or some combination. If you can find out what that underlying problem is and help him solve that problem, perhaps the herb will disappear on its own.

Sometimes with drug users, it is hopelessness. That things will never be different than they are today. In terms of therapy, I would say a good dose of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a support group would be a good start. If you can keep the conversation on the problem (stress, depression, loneliness) rather than the drug, you will better for it. E.g., you want him to see a therapist not because he is a drug user, but because he is depressed.

You can find this out with light-touch conversation. Chances may be that there is something devouring him inside that he would love to share in a space of non-judgement. The weed is the way of keeping it quiet. If you can locate that, and then suggest therapy for that specific driver -- not mentioning the herb -- you may stand a better chance of sorting him out.

I have put people in cars, driven them to the therapist's office, walked them in, waiting in the waiting room, and done that for weeks on end whilst paying for it. About half thanked me for it. The others stopped showing up one day and to this day are the same as they have been -- functional drug users.

He may not hit bottom, so don't get excited waiting for it. He may waste his life. He may not live to his potential. He may have nothing to show for a month other than roaches and cookies. Be prepared for that. Lots of people never hit bottom. But they never achieve either. They never live their dreams. They sit in a cloud of smoke, 'chilling out'.

If you can find a dream of his and help him live it, so he can experience the success of aspiration and achievement, that may be a good start as well. For one mate of ours in college, it was a 500 mile bike ride. One of the crew literally picked him up four times a week to go on 50 mile rides. It took a few months, but after the 500 mile ride, he went from a pothead to a bike head. We really preferred the latter.
posted by nickrussell at 5:34 PM on November 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

For those of you that are of the opinion that chronic pot smoking doesn't ruin lives, I can categorically say you're wrong. It's ruined the lives of people in my family, left them destitute and hopeless and a non-functional burden to all around them. It might not end up with you blowing some dude for a hit, but over a long period and when abused at key moments it can most certainly rob you of the ability to shape your life in the way you desire. It can kill ambition, dull your mind and make you settle for less . It can ultimately destroy relationships and the ability to really relate to non-smokers. And before you label me as some kind of evangelistic asshole who's never touched the stuff, I used to smoke as much as any human can. It was only when I saw what it was doing to my family members over a long period of time that I realised what I had to do.

The real effect is simple, when the inside of your head is endlessly fascinating and full of what seem like unique and life altering realisations, you're less likely to seek that in the real world. The longer you do it, the less likely you are to be able to see what you're losing. Eventually, if it's combined with an addict's growing mentality of differing responsibility, you can become totally disconnected and non-functional. The fact that people refuse to recognise it's long term effects on many of it's users is simple and horrific propaganda of exactly the same kind that used to tell people that smoking weed turned you into a homicidal maniac.

So, if you can manage smoke every night then go into work every day and be the best at what you do, more power to you. Different people react differently to different situations, but even if you are that good and that ambitious, I say being an addict to anything is never a good idea. It makes you subject to forces beyond your own best interests.

The truth is I can't give you advice on this, I could never convince the people close to me that they needed to love me more than they loved getting high.
posted by Willfull at 5:45 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hi, pothead here.

Address the behavior, not the weed. There's going to be too many people who say, 'ah man it's just weed and xyz people are totally productive on it.' And guess what? They're probably right. Doesn't mean it's not harming your bro, but not all potheads are like your description of him (in fact, many are not).

The only thing you can know for sure is that (assuming he's not using a vaporizer) is that his lungs are suffering to a certain extent.

If he is spacy/giggly/paranoid/whatever when you are around him (and he's stoned) you can tell him that you don't really dig his spacy/giggly/whatever self.

As for the rest of it -- jesus, a lot of folks avoid going for the gold without the excuse of weed. I understand that it is -- what, anti-motivational for some. Maybe this is the case here. But, unfortunately, there have not been clinical studies that have said weed makes you do or not do X.

Due respect to Willful, but if somebody printed out his/her comment and handed it to me as proof that weed was bad, I'd be all like, 'uh -- smoking weed helps me sleep and eat and therefore function at work what the fuck are you talking about.' Maybe I'm delusional, but that's what my response would be.

Oh, and I don't know about you, but I would much rather have a pothead brother than an alcoholic one. Realize that if he's using weed to cope with stress and you convince him that it is the evil herb, he may reach for the booze. Coping mechanisms are coping mechanisms, but booze is a hella lot worse, IMO. But then I'm a pothead.

Focus on the behavior. 'Cause I would bet you a half oz that going on the 'weed is evil' train is not going to be very persuasive.
posted by angrycat at 6:11 PM on November 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

FWIW many companies have gotten wise to evidence of piss test maskers and will hire/fire accordingly.
posted by brujita at 6:24 PM on November 28, 2011

For those of you that are of the opinion that chronic pot smoking doesn't ruin lives, I can categorically say you're wrong.

I'm not going to sit here and argue that chronic marijuana use has never been associated with harm. This survey has a lot to say about this, including the fact that dependent users were more likely to report depression, respiratory problems, and a lower amount of motivation and overall happiness (though it's worth noting that nearly 70% of the very frequent (daily) marijuana users surveyed didn't meet the criteria for dependence despite heavy use, and only those who did meet the criteria for dependence reported significant associated problems).

Having said that, I think it's no coincidence that the "life ruining" effects you've described look almost exactly like the symptoms of untreated depression.

Or, as this study put it: "These data suggest that amotivational symptoms observed in heavy marijuana users in treatment are due to depression".
posted by vorfeed at 6:57 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with other posters that you should concentrate on your brother's other issues rather than his rampant pot use. His defensiveness toward the issue indicates to me that he would like to reduce his usage but is unsure of how to, or maybe he is afraid of reducing usage as he is presently dependent on it. He needs to find some joy, something to look forward to, before he can reduce his cannabis usage. You should try engaging him in activities that do not require inebriation to be enjoyable, preferably some activity that has an easy learning curve but rewards continued practice; something with a physical component, such as dance, cycling, cross country skiing, rock climbing, or martial arts.

The road out of depression and dependence is a long one that is more about self-discovery and growth than repentance and abstinence. I would urge you not to engage your brother directly on his vice (especially since his vice is relatively harmless, in the short-term) but rather to introduce him to activities, and, more importantly, a mindset, where weed is more of a enhancer than an escape. It seems that his situation seems so bleak right now that oblivion is superior to his reality; you need to show him that this is not so.
posted by sid at 7:39 PM on November 28, 2011

Nthing leaving the smoking out of it. I am sure that for you, quitting smoking weed was a big lifesaver (or maybe the timing was good)--but he's not going to see it that way, or find that to be a motivator. The problem with the people who lose their lives to smoking weed isn't the weed, it's the people. If it wasn't weed, it'd be hoarding or drinking or something else that TLC likes to make shows about. I'm sorry that you're feeling sad about your brother right now, but the best way to help him would be to think of things that make him feel better, not worse. So instead of, "Hey bro, tone down the dro," I'd maybe try to get him to do something fun that isn't a weed-centric activity.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:16 PM on November 28, 2011

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
There is a marijuana anonymous chatroom ( that is online 24 hours a day. It's a great place even for people who are just thinking that they might have an unhealthy relationship with pot. I was a huge stoner for almost ten years, and have been clean for almost three years now. Nothing anyone could have said would have convinced me to quit, I had to want that on my own, but even when I was on the fence about quitting, this community was extremely supportive. If it weren't for the site, there's a good chance I probably would not have stayed sober. I imagine this place could benefit both the OP and his brother.
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with the posters, weed can most definitely be a coping mechanism for depression, but it's one that can end up making a bout of depression last years more than it should. The problem is it's an insulating layer between you and getting better. It's an excuse. It makes you feel better for a while. but dulling the pain doesn't remove the problem, it just puts it off. The truth is that self-diagnosing a weed addiction is easier than self-diagnosing depression because in my experience the vast majority of depressed people who smoke weed blame it on the weed rather than actually owning up to their problems. "If only I could stop the weed" replaces "If only I could stop feeling shit all the time". Depression becomes something that will happen if you stop smoking weed, and since you never stop smoking weed, you've always got depression in your future. The fear of it eventually destroys you.

The real problem is that too many potheads have to put up with casual social scorn from people who have never smoke, even if their "addiction" is nothing more than occasionally getting high with their friends. Nonetheless, tere's something uniquely teenage about people who smoke weed's annoyance at being told they need to smoke less. Weed is the only thing I know that makes grown people react like 13 year olds. Weed may not be a addictive, but it's presence most certainly is. It substitutes itself for fun, for happiness, for relaxation. You don't need to be high to enjoy life, but being high makes being normal seem low.

On top of this, I can categorically state from personal experience, long term weed smoking eventually makes you permanently emotionally ambivalent. It removes your ability to really feel emotions in a normal and healthy way. This ambivalence can masquerade as emotional stability when put in the context of a possible alcohol addiction or suicide, but shelving a problem doesn't make it go away. The real question is, would you rather risk risking your brother getting worse and going deeper into the depression once he's actually facing some of the shit that's fucking him up, or are you happy with a brother who's just pretty functionally shit for the rest of your and his lives?

Personally, it was a decision I had to make a while back. I decided that they were an adult, and that I should let the person do what they wanted and the truth is, I regret it.

I wish I'd said something back when I thought I had a chance to change them. Now I have a relative who's beyond help, who I can't have a normal relationship with because they lack the basic tools to look after themselves.

I say say something. And keep saying something. Don't make it about the weed if you think he'll just be a dick and ignore what you're saying and blame it on your inability to appreciate his lifestyle, but just keep at it. Keep turning up and shouting and making a scene and destroying his ability to make reality less real.
posted by Willfull at 5:59 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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