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Marijuana Addiction Relapse

Marijuana Relapse Recovery

Recovering from an addiction to marijuana is a process, and it may take multiple relapses before a person can achieve long-term abstinence.

Relapsing doesn’t mean that you failed. It simply means that you may need to try a different approach to your recovery.

Learn more about relapsing on marijuana, including:

What Is a Marijuana Relapse?

A marijuana relapse is defined as the return to marijuana use after a period of abstinence. 1 Relapsing is often a part of the marijuana recovery process and should be viewed as an opportunity to gain insight into what isn’t working in your recovery.

A number of different factors may cause someone to relapse on marijuana, including:

  • Experiencing stress.
  • Lacking a relapse prevention plan.
  • Believing that you can use again after a period of sobriety.
  • Being around people who are still abusing marijuana.
  • Having strong cravings to use.
  • Having unhealthy coping skills.
  • Relapsing in the past.
  • Being around triggers, such as places you where you used or paraphernalia.
  • Experiencing relationship, family, or financial problems.

The percentage of recovering addicts that relapse after an extended period of sobriety resembles that of medical illnesses, such as high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes. 2 The relapse rate is estimated to be between 40% and 60%. 2

The first 3 months after completing an addiction treatment program are a vulnerable time period, 1 and relapses frequently occur. But just because you use marijuana again doesn’t mean that you have to fall back into marijuana addiction. Having a strong network of supportive friends and family members can help you regain your sobriety.

How to Recover From a Marijuana Relapse

If you or someone you love relapses on marijuana, don’t view it as a defeat. You can do many things to rebound, including:

  • Telling your loved one to stop using marijuana immediately: The sooner someone stops using, the easier it will be to achieve sobriety.
  • Encouraging him or her to think about why it happened: Recognizing triggers will help you improve coping skills down the line. Was there a crisis that led to the relapse? Were you having problems with a job, family, or friends? Were you bored? Was it related to a specific event?
  • Reaching out for help: Don’t keep your relapse to yourself. Contact your therapist or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sponsor, or a family member or friend. Someone you trust can support you while you look for treatment.
  • Getting back into treatment: Even if you’ve completed a marijuana recovery program before, you can always learn something new and figure out ways to prevent relapse in the future. Perhaps the treatment wasn’t the right fit and you need to discuss alternatives with an addiction professional or your therapist. If the relapse was severe and you have returned to consistent marijuana use, you may require a higher level of care, such as inpatient rehab, than someone who has experienced a relatively minor relapse.
  • Considering whether there may be an undiagnosed mental health disorder or trauma. A substance use disorder and a mental health disorder (also called a dual diagnosis) may require a comprehensive marijuana rehab program, consisting of medication and therapy. Untreated mental health disorders can cause someone to continue to relapse when the symptoms of the disorder reappear.

Developing a Relapse Prevention Plan

If you or your loved one doesn’t have a marijuana relapse prevention plan in place, develop one with guidance from a sponsor, therapist, or addiction treatment team.

An aftercare or relapse prevention plan can include any combination of the following elements:

  • Seeing a therapist on a consistent basis.
  • Attending NA meetings and getting a sponsor.
  • Learning how to identify and manage triggers and high-risk situations.
  • Leading a balanced life, consisting of meditation or mindfulness, sober hobbies, a healthy diet, and regular exercise.
  • Building a network of supportive and encouraging people you can trust, and avoiding negative people.
  • Entering a sober living home if you need help staying away from marijuana and friends who use.
  • Learning how to cope with cravings in a healthy way using a variety of techniques, such as cognitive reframing, challenging thoughts, thought-stopping, distraction, and urge surfing.

Relapse Warning Signs

A marijuana relapse is usually preceded by certain thoughts or behaviors. Here are some signs you or your loved one may be in danger of relapsing:

  • Experiencing cravings. Many recovering users have cravings. But they can lead to a relapse if they are not controlled. A therapist can teach you techniques to manage your cravings.
  • Thinking about the “good times” when you used marijuana. After a period of sobriety, some people look back on their drug-using days with nostalgia and overlook all the problems. This kind of thinking can lead back to drug use in an attempt to re-experience the “good old days.”
  • Reducing participation in your recovery program. Maintaining sobriety by yourself is hard. If you lose interest in your therapy or 12-step program, find another source of support.
  • Telling yourself you can use again. People who have been addicted to marijuana are usually not able to use the drug in moderation – even after they’ve been in recovery. If you’re having these thoughts, talk about them with a sponsor, therapist, or friend.
  • Reconnecting with friends who use. The more time you spend around people who are using marijuana or other drugs, the more likely you are to start using again.
  • Losing interest in activities or hobbies. If you’re often bored, lonely, or sad, reach out to someone and try to find ways to spend your time doing things that bring you satisfaction.

How to Reframe a Relapse

“Say to yourself, “I’m not weak. I just need to build better coping skills.”
Many people relapse multiple times before achieving long-term sobriety from marijuana.

Maintain a positive outlook and view the marijuana relapse as a learning experience, as opposed to a failure. Different addiction treatment programs work for different people. Just because you completed a recovery program doesn’t mean it was the best option for you. Discuss alternative recovery services with an addiction or mental heath professional.

It is helpful to reframe negative statements about yourself into positive phrases. For example, you could change the belief that you’re a failure into, “I’m not a failure. I just need to figure out what I can do to prevent this in the future.” Another example is, “I’m not weak. I just need to build better-coping skills.”

Find a Relapse Prevention Recovery Program

If you or someone you know has relapsed on marijuana, call to speak to a treatment support specialist about recovery options.

[1]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (1994). Clinical Report Series: Relapse Prevention.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.