I can't believe I have to ask this question
March 8, 2016 5:15 AM   Subscribe

It's time to deal with the fact that I'm psychologically addicted to weed. But how on earth can I convince myself to give up the one and only coping mechanism I have that actually works?

Female, late 20s, NYC. I've definitely got depression, probably some clinical OCD, probably ADHD. It all runs in my family, which in what I'm sure is no coincidence is also full of alcoholics. I have a therapist and a psychiatrist.

My old therapist was great in some ways but also kind of sucked in a lot of ways (knew nothing about ADHD), and the new one I just found last month is better at some things but not as good at others (specializes in ADHD but I'm not sure he 'gets' me on a personal level). We've talked about the weed use, but probably not in as much detail as I lay out here. Yes, I will tell my therapist all this, today, so you don't need to tell me to print it out and show it to him. He’s the third or fourth therapist I’ve had in the past five years, plus maybe five or six more who I went on initial visits with and decided not to use. I’m so fucking tired of looking for a fucking therapist.

I’ve tried three or four different antidepressants - some didn't work, some gave me crazy mood swings, others sort of worked but also completely erased my sex drive and made me gain 30 pounds. Now I'm off antidepressants and on ADHD meds. They help some, but not enough.

But you know what TOTALLY helps? Smoking a whole fucking bunch of weed every night.

It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel calm and relaxed. It makes me enjoy things in a way that I can’t when I’m sober. I like the way it makes me think. It’s the thing that showed me how depressed I was in the first place – a couple of years ago I sent my friend a text about my day, smoked, and then looked back at my text and was stunned by how negative and miserable it was. I went looking for a therapist that same week. And it’s the thing that finally got me to have an orgasm, in my 20s, after years and years of trying and failing.

So it’s not like I haven’t benefitted from using it in the past. But the thing is, these days I’m using it way too much. Almost every night now, for many months. And it’s becoming a problem. It’s turning me into a hermit – I barely make plans anymore. It’s started making me neglect the things I know I need to do – cooking, laundry, everything. And the things I want to do, like writing and art. When I smoke at night it makes me oversleep and get to work late, no matter how many alarms I set. I’d rather just smoke than do anything else at this point, and that fucking sucks, and I hate it, and I wish I could just tell myself “this is just a thing we do occasionally” but so far, I have failed to do that.

I feel so pathetic, because I know ‘weed addiction’ is only psychological. And I know that the more I lean on it to cope, the weaker my internal coping mechanisms become.

I know I CAN stop – I took a several-month-long course last year that required us to pass a drug test at the end, and it was easy to stop cold turkey when I had an actual compelling reason. But… I started drinking more, like a beer or two a night when normally I’ll drink with friends and maybe have a beer with dinner once a week. And I even bummed a couple of cigarettes from people, despite the fact that I never smoke tobacco – because I missed smoking so much. And then, the second I was out of that course, I went right back to the weed. (Haven’t felt the need for tobacco since.)

It doesn’t help that my office job is incredibly stressful and poorly managed, meaning I have dozens of things to do at any given time and no real supervision – a perfect storm nightmare scenario for ADHD. I feel like I need to leave, but I haven’t taken any real steps to do that. I think I might be subconsciously sabotaging myself by smoking so much and then oversleeping so often – like I can’t handle the idea of looking for a new job, so I’m just hoping I fuck up enough that they fire me. But I’m too much of a goody two-shoes to fuck up THAT badly, so here I still am. I fantasize about when I used to work at an ice cream store and the only source of stress was how little I got paid.

Another issue is that my roommates are also near-daily smokers. If I told them I was quitting or taking a break they’d be super supportive about it, but weed would still be in the apartment. Moving is not a possibility – my apartment is cheap and gorgeous and perfect, it took me three years to find it, I’ve put a lot of work into it, and I plan to stay here for several more years. Non-NYCers, pretend I said I own this place with my roommates, that is how committed I am to staying here. (And I did already live with these guys when I quit for several months last year.)

So, ok. I know I need to quit. Maybe forever – although my ideal scenario would be to get to a point where my mental shit was under control enough and my job situation was sane enough that I could go back to enjoying it occasionally without it taking over my life. I can’t bring myself to say “yes, I am giving up this thing that is more effective than any antidepressant I’ve ever taken and that was the key to unlocking my sexuality and that makes me feel peaceful and creative and happy, forever, starting now.” The idea makes me cry. I'm crying right now just typing it! But I need to try SOMETHING.

I guess this is the part where I ask a question. Guys, how do I get started here? How do I actually convince myself to stop? I know that in the medium term, this is what I need to do it get my life under control. But in the short term? I’ll be giving up the one and only coping mechanism I have that actually works. And so far, I haven’t been able to convince myself to do that.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Head on out to an AA or NA meeting. You'll get a supportive community of folks who will coach you through quitting. I have a friend who was like you, she was a weed lover, and she decided to quit. She prefers the AA meetings, but try each until you find a group you like.

Don't think about giving up weed forever. You give things up one day at a time. Sometimes it's "I'm not going to smoke right now." Other times it's, "I'm not going to smoke today."

Work with your doctors on finding the right combo of meds. It takes time and trial and error.

I know folks that once they've decided that they don't want to smoke, that it's perfectly okay for them to live with people who do. It's not a trigger or a problem for them. Especially since it's not a physical craving.

What you need to do is learn different coping mechanisms. So what do you do if you get stressed? Take a bath, meditate, exercise, write, play guitar, watch your favorite old movie, pet a cat. Right now it seems so huge, but working with a support group can really help.

Once you get this under control, maybe you decide to change to a better job, or remove stress in other ways.

Take from a meeting what's useful to you.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think the answer is "find another coping mechanism." Think about what smoking is doing for you. It forces you to spend time alone at home after a long day, helps you relax, floods your brain with happy bubbly neurotransmitters, establishes a routine (do this right before bed), and so forth. Then think about other ways you could get these needs met. You could join a running club or get a gym membership or take up urban exploration. There are lots of options, but try to suss out first what your "thing" would look like, then you can start experimenting to see what's out there.
posted by deathpanels at 5:42 AM on March 8, 2016 [12 favorites]

How about you stick with the weed, but work on doing the things you feel it's stopping you doing? Like not smoking after 7pm so you're not a zombie the next morning, or finding ways to make yourself more disciplined about your chores (phone alarms? to-do lists? rewarding yourself with a smoke?) Cut yourself a break on going out, it's hard in the winter. And look for another job.
posted by corvine at 6:10 AM on March 8, 2016 [15 favorites]

It's not really working if it's interfering with your life. It's causing you problems - that means it's not working. And good for you for recognizing a problem.

I smoked pot most days in my 20s with no ill effects and many days I miss it, so believe me when I say I do not have any sort of general negative feelings about weed - but you can absolutely call yourself an addict and benefit from NA meetings if marijuana is your main problem. Psychological addiction is not some kind of less-real addiction than physical; it's the real deal. I'm married to someone who has been a grateful sober member of NA for ten years, and his primary drug of choice was always weed. It fucked up his life right good for a long time.

I know you probably feel like NA is a nuclear option at this point, because our culture definitely normalizes smoking weed as a normal part of being an adult. And for many people, it is. For many people alcohol is, too, but for others it interferes with who they want to be and what they want their life to look like. It sounds like you suspect you might be one of the latter group. It sounds like you want help, and 12-step meetings are free and full of people who are willing to help. It's worth a shot.
posted by something something at 6:13 AM on March 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

I feel so pathetic, because I know ‘weed addiction’ is only psychological.

That won't help you! Don't call yourself names like that.

Also: I don't know where people got the idea that physical dependence is the most important part of addictions, but that is totally wrong. If it were true, all you'd need to do is detox people and send them on their way, and you know, it's not like that.
posted by thelonius at 6:16 AM on March 8, 2016 [22 favorites]

Head on out to an AA or NA meeting. You'll get a supportive community of folks who will coach you through quitting. I have a friend who was like you, she was a weed lover, and she decided to quit. She prefers the AA meetings, but try each until you find a group you like.

I, too, have a friend who went to AA to quit weed. This was more than 20 years ago. She still goes to meetings. She made wonderful friends and got exactly the support and help she needed to quit.

Stop the negative self talk, and good luck.
posted by Dolley at 6:41 AM on March 8, 2016

Congratulations to you! It seems very likely the pot is working as a great antidepressant, but I know smoking in the evening disrupts sleep cycles. Folks I know who start smoking pot every night undergo significant personality changes, for what it's worth, like doing a 'harder' drug. Do not feel bad that you think you need help to change this - it's a real drug in many cases. Realizing you'd like a change is a huge thing

Anyway, you definitely need to rely on your therapist. If you can do a CBT based approach, it can help you to create some skills to cope in place of looking forward to your evening pot. Aong with all the other things therapists recommend like exercise and meditation and a bubble bath. CBT can help you take your thoughts and calm them down until they actually pass you by with just a notice and not a panic and start to fade. Not that drugs may not help you make it through.
posted by Kalmya at 6:42 AM on March 8, 2016

As a first step what I would do is give your self some new guidelines when you can smoke. Only when it's dark out is a good step.

You know it's coming but you have to fill up your time with something until then. Do something that you feel like you really deserve a reward for. Take a walk (so good for you mentally-really!), clean something (a reward in itself having a clean space/sink/bathroom), go food shopping or prepare a nice lunch for the next day.
Make a list of things you really wish you were doing and do a little of that thing- then you get the reward.

I LOVE having wine and it is SO relaxing to me. But I limit it to certain times and amounts so I make a bottle last a week. If I didn't limit myself I'd have a couple glasses everyday and that's more like 4 bottles a week! It would be way too depressing to say I can never have wine again- I enjoy it so much and it feel like a great reward for tough days.
posted by ReluctantViking at 6:46 AM on March 8, 2016

You probably need more help than you realize, if you think weed is purely a "psychological" addiction. I don't know where you're getting the idea that weed can't ever be physically addictive. Stop beating yourself up about that. It totally can be. Especially if you're a daily user.

"Yes, marijuana can be addictive. Over time, overstimulation of the endocannabinoid system by marijuana use can cause changes in the brain that lead to addiction, a condition in which a person cannot stop using a drug even though it interferes with many aspects of his or her life. It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. The number goes up to about 17 percent in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 25 to 50 percent among daily users." — from DrugAbuse.gov.

Sounds like you're in that 25 to 50 percent of daily users who find it to be a problem insofar as it interferes with their daily life. Best of luck on your recovery.
posted by amoeba at 7:23 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

So if it helps, cocaine (including crack) is "only" psychologically addictive. All that means is that there is no physical withdrawal process (and actually, there is [some fairly weak] evidence that marijuana does cause physical withdrawal symptoms). Clearly, you've identified that marijuana is a barrier to leading a full life for you. Who cares what anyone else's relationship to weed is.

Also, for what it's worth, I'm a nurse who works actively with substance use, all different substances, and my anecdotal experience is that marijuana is similarly motivation-sapping and ultimately depression inducing even for many of the people initially increase their use to treat depression (as you have).

So, how to stop? Unfortunately, research has not showed us a magic bullet for stopping compulsive behaviors or for curtailing substance dependence. There are things that seem to help:

- getting support from others
- building new and healthy habits to replace old behaviors (so that moment when you get home at the end of the day and pack a bowl or whatever should be replaced with other behaviors that become routine to you)
- physical exercise and other time-filling activities
- actively addressing the depression (and other mental health issues)

I would suggest taking up a new physical exercise practice, like going running after work, or an evening yoga class, or joining a boxing gym, or going swimming 3 evenings a week. Exercise will fill your time, treat depression, make you motivated to avoid smoking (pot or cigarettes), and get you out of your pot-filled house in the evenings.
If you have a non-pot smoking buddy out there, can you start having Wednesday game night with her?
Can Friday be Go to the Movies night?
Can you start volunteering at the SPCA on the weekends?
Take up knitting?

Basically, the first few months are going to be a tough push of building new behavior patterns, then over time, if you're concurrently addressing the depression, those behaviors will become familiar and therefore easier.

Best of luck to you, it is insightful and brave to address this now.
posted by latkes at 7:32 AM on March 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you decide you don't want to stop straight away.....I think maybe you are using the weed as a (mostly!!) successful medication against your depression/adhd/anxiety. Only you are over-medicating. Cut Back. View it as (very helpful) serious medication that you are taking, and you get (2 small?) doses each day.

Combined with behavior/activity changes, this may help you accomplish your goals (chores, art, etc) more easily... you'll have the positive aspects of smoking like a more optimistic attitude, but without the numbness and apathy that results from smoking too much and without the guilt you are feeling from over indulging.
posted by fourpotatoes at 7:34 AM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sorry, my comment wasn't meant to encourage to keep an addiction you wish to stop. Only, some people are more successful with small steps, instead of one giant leap. It's a small way of starting on your desired path, even if you are not ready for a huge step. Good luck!
posted by fourpotatoes at 7:37 AM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

2nd finding a substitute activity, especially something physical. Massively second evening swimming in particular. There's something inherently soothing about it. (It's maybe the only thing that will reliably knock me out enough to sleep when everything else is haywire.) Once some alternative that puts you in a better position for daytime stuff is in place, I think you'll have to face the job application process, it seems like that's your biggest stress and the thing pushing to self medicate to the degree you are right now. So for that, in therapy, would focus on addressing avoidance and techniques for regulating emotion and tolerating distress in the moment.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:54 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

It’s turning me into a hermit – I barely make plans anymore. It’s started making me neglect the things I know I need to do – cooking, laundry, everything. And the things I want to do, like writing and art... it makes me oversleep and get to work late, no matter how many alarms I set.
What struck me about this paragraph is that the it sounds more like depression than weed. Could it be that the weed isn't really an effective antidepressant, and your use only serves to briefly mask the underlying issue?

Which isn't to say you shouldn't not stop smoking. It certainly adds an unpredictable variable into your doctors' efforts to work out the best treatment options for you. So how to quit? You said yourself, "it was easy to stop cold turkey when I had an actual compelling reason." You have a compelling reason--you want to get your depression under control and start doing things like cooking great dinners and making cool art. Keep reminding yourself of those goals, ask your roommates to support you, and of course, talk to your doctors. Good luck.
posted by lost_cause at 8:21 AM on March 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

Given that weed resulted in you finally achieving orgasm -- a physical outcome -- I am skeptical that it is all psychological.

My understanding is that depression has two root causes: brain chemistry and actual problems that feel too overwhelming to solve. Problems that make us literally hopeless.

I think if there is brain chemistry involved and drugs can manipulate it, it is legitimate to frame it as a medical problem. Like other medical problems, it sometimes improves via diet and exercise.

But assuming it really is all psychological, that implies to me that something about your life is simply awful. Your job. Your living situation. Your relationship to your family. Something.

In my experience, if the root of depression is a real problem, the solution is to tackle solving the cause of it.

The cause may be something incredibly frightening. It may feel like standing up to it will destroy you. There may be genuine risk involved -- for example, women are most at risk of being killed when they leave an abusive relationship.

But whatever the problem is, your life is already being destroyed by it. So it might be time to consider taking the bull by the horns and grappling with the root cause directly.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:00 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm a recovering alcoholic, but I smoked a bale or two in my time before the drink took over. I also have ADHD, and depression. My thought is you ought to look at getting your ADHD treated..
Look up the symptoms of ADHD - running yourself down/belittling yourself, medicating yourself, etc.
When I read years after getting sober and before seeking treatment for the ADHD that many people with ADHD self medicate with alcohol or other substances it was a revelation. I remembered it seemed like I could think better after a couple beers. My mind didn't wander around. Even when getting good and tanked, I had to concentrate hard to do *one* thing - so no mind wandering/getting distracted.
Then I read that some of the ADHD meds are used short term to treat depression that is resistant to normal anti-depressants.
AA told me to find the causes and conditions of my alcoholism. I think I did. I started the meds about 7 years after I got sober, it was like another grand revelation, on a par with when I put down the drink.
And as we say, all I can tell you is what happened to me. It may or may not be right for you. Take what you need and leave the rest.
posted by rudd135 at 6:21 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, like fourpotatoes above, I too don't want to encourage a behavior you want to stop. But, as someone who uses/has used a variety of substances (both legal and quasi-legal) to manage chronic pain, anxiety and depression I might suggest that you consider the tenets of "harm reduction". If interested, you can look up the official position but the basic idea is that you meet yourself where you are. If you're deriving some positive benefits from using this particular substance, acknowledge that - don't deny it - but try to think of ways to minimize the harm you're experiencing from the substance usage.

In my case, a few years ago I was drinking more than I wanted every day. I had a migraine every single day all day long and sometimes the ONLY thing I looked forward to every evening was when I had that first sip of wine and it distracted me from my pain. And, I really was not willing to give that up! It's what kept me sane. And while I'm the kind of person that is firmly in the camp that 1-2 glasses of wine a day are totally fine, I was downing a bottle, sometimes a bottle and a half every single night. Not healthy and not sustainable - plus I knew it was making the depression that is my birthright (ha) and is also a by-product of chronic pain, even worse.

So, rather than stopping completely, my therapist suggested I think about harm reduction, in that I could still have a glass (or two) of wine, but that I should really try and focus on those initial moments where my perspective shifted and try and drag out that whole initial experience as long as I could. She also suggested that I ration myself by putting half a bottle (2 generous glasses) in a decanter and corking the bottle itself up and putting it away, out of sight (vs. on the countertop where I'd have easy access to more.)

Long story short-ish: it worked and completely surprisingly it wasn't that difficult! Could you try allowing yourself 1-2 bowls/bong hits/half a joint/whatever but no more and see what the effects are? Both immediately and the aftermath, i.e., the next morning, etc.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 8:22 PM on March 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would try physical exercise. I reached a point with alcohol a few years ago where I decided I needed to stop, and I joined a 24 Hour Fitness at about that time. It wasn't intentional, but going to the gym late at night to run or bang a racquetball around turned out to be a good way to put me in a calm state and bleed off some of the bad energy I'd been using alcohol to cope with, and just knowing that I could get up and go to the gym made me feel better because I didn't feel quite as trapped. It would also be a way for you to avoid your roommates when they're smoking.
posted by alphanerd at 11:25 PM on March 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Are you on a high enough dose of the ADHD meds or can you take three doses so they last for 12 hours instead of the usual 8? Everything goes to crap for me every single night. I can't get any relief, but if weed or alcohol worked for me, I'd do it, too! Binge eating used to be my thing, because it boosted my mood and distracted me from my thought spirals and overwhelm.

I feel "addicted" to my Adderall now, but I only take what I need to focus (5-15mg at a time for four hours, and I take it three times a day usually unless I wake up late.) I'm only "addicted" to Adderall if it's possible to be addicted to a substance that allows you to think and function like a neurotypical person does. We need something to get through the day and keep our jobs.

Have you gotten labs done lately? I had undiagnosed hypothyroidism in my 20s with all the symptoms, like horrible depression and brain fog with made the ADHD / OCD type symptoms worse. I didn't know I had ADHD until last year.

For hypothyroidism, I needed to have them test the antibodies for Hashimoto's disease and make them see they were idiots for leaving me with such a high TSH. Hypothyroidism so incredibly common. I'm also usually borderline anemic and need several tests to see it. Low iron, low B vitamins, hypothyroidism on T4-only meds... can all lead feeling like crap, like a slave to your thoughts and compulsions, depressed, tired, no libido, anxious, and unable to change. If you have ADHD, any other issues make it so much worse. There's no magic band-aid, but if you feel like you need the weed, then... maybe you do. Don't blame yourself and believe the lie that "trying harder" actually works. I know it doesn't. I feel like I tried harder than anyone (tried everything), yet nothing I did worked until I alleviated the worst of my brain foggy symptoms. Now my life is slowly getting better.

You need to find out what weed is doing for your brain and where the deficit is elsewhere. Get a medical doctor in addition to the psych, who might need to up the ADHD meds.
posted by chaos_theory at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

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