Does Cannabis Use Lead to Relapse In Alcohol Treatment Patients?

Does Cannabis Use Lead to Relapse In Alcohol Treatment Patients

An interesting study done very recently in the United States seeks to examine whether cannabis or marijuana, use during sobriety can lead to relapses to drinking in alcoholics or those seeking sobriety from alcohol. The study looked at all different levels of cannabis use, everyday use, once or twice a month, and a few levels in between, as well as no cannabis use at all. 

Most people in both AA and NA, as well as most other drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs, will advise people not to use any drugs or alcohol, even if the drug in question was not originally problematic to that individual. In other words, they will tell you not to smoke marijuana if you want to be sober, even if you believe alcohol was your only real problem. This study seems to go straight to this question, ignoring the ethical questions involved in smoking cannabis during treatment or during sobriety, and seeking to find out if the cannabis use might lead to relapse. This becomes a much more pertinent question as cannabis is now legal or being legalized all over the country. When marijuana was an illegal drug, it was slightly easier for drug counselors and 12-step sponsors to treat it as such, simply treat cannabis as one of many illegal drugs to be avoided. With cannabis being legalized, the efficacy of THC during sobriety is more in question than ever, even if most people still consider any drug, legal or illegal, a threat to sobriety in general. It is, however, not that simple. Caffeine and nicotine, other legal drugs, have long been acceptable for sober people to use, in most people’s minds. Nicotine is highly addictive, one of the most addictive drugs in the world, but it is not psychoactive. Caffeine is only slightly addictive but is considered lightly psychoactive, serving to help with concentration and energy levels for many people. 

With cannabis becoming legal, it is legitimate to ask what the risks might be for sober people who might seek out the effects of Cannabis. Cannabis is, however, psychoactive in the way many other illegal drugs are psychoactive.  It causes a range of effects in its users, including euphoria. The reason it is being legalized while other psychoactive drugs are not, though, is that marijuana lacks the harmful side effects and overdose potential of nearly all those other illegal drugs. Importantly, even though cannabis does not have dangerous side effects for most people, it would be great to know whether or not cannabis use endangers the sobriety of people who have recently completed drug or alcohol addiction treatment. If cannabis use makes an addict more likely to relapse on opiates, that does not say anything about cannabis, other than that opiate addicts might want to avoid it. So goes the question, and so an intrepid group of scientists wanted to find out. To quote the conclusion of the study, 

“Among individuals in alcohol treatment, any cannabis use (compared with none) is related to a significantly lower percentage of days abstinent from alcohol post‐treatment, although only among those who used cannabis once or twice per month.”

To put it most simply, those people who used any cannabis at all were sober for less time. No concrete reasons can be given for this fact by the study itself, but it is an important piece of information for anyone to have if they are seeking treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, especially in a state with legalized THC products. 

By Tim Cannon



“Cannabis use during treatment for alcohol use disorders predicts alcohol treatment outcomes.” Meenakshi Sabina Subbaraman, Jane Metrik, Deidre Patterson, Robert Swift. 19 November 2016. Retrieved from