Recovery Is Not For Sissies

Recovery Is Not For Sissies

Recovery Is Not For SissiesWhen a young person goes into recovery for drug or alcohol abuse, can they still use medical marijuana for their anxiety?  

If you have a question you’d like me to address on this podcast, don’t be shy, we’ll all benefit from your question so come over to my website, neildbrown.com and enter it there today.  If we select your question for a podcast this month of May, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending The Parent-Teen Control Battle.

Today we’re hearing from Anita of Santa Rosa, California.

Anita writes:

My 23 year old daughter just got out of drug and alcohol rehab and is doing pretty well.  She’s been struggling with substance abuse since her teen years and hasn’t been making good decisions about relationships, education, jobs, money, etc.  Now she wants to get a decent job and work towards getting her own place.  Here’s my question.  She insists that marijuana isn’t a problem for her and that it calms her down and reduces her anxiety, basically, that it helps her.  She sites medical marijuana as proof that it really is medicine and not necessarily just a recreational drug.  It’s true that when she is on marijuana, she is much calmer.  Should I go along with her decision or should I stay with the rule, that in order to live at home, she needs to be completely clean and sober?

Thanks for your question, Anita and it really is an important one.  Our ideas about marijuana are definitely in transition and it can be confusing. We used to think that marijuana was similar to heroin in its destructive capability, and then when it became popular and was widely used, we realized that it wasn’t as destructive as people thought and it also had medicinal qualities.  Many states legalized medical marijuana and now it is being legalized as a recreational drug similar to alcohol. Many people use marijuana to relax or simply get high much like many people will have a beer or a glass of wine to relax. 

So while many people benefit from the medical use of marijuana and many enjoy its psychotropic qualities recreationally, it is still a powerful and potentially addicting drug.  You can listen to my podcast interview with Amy Rose titled, The Truth About Youth and Marijuana Today to learn more.

The Effects of a Self-Destructive Lifestyle

But here is the thing, your daughter has addiction issues.  How did this develop?  It sounds like she got involved as a teenager and has been involved in a self-destructive lifestyle ever since.  So let’s say she started with drug abuse at age 15 and now she’s 23.  Think of all the learning and growing she missed out on during those eight years.  At age 23 many young adults have made progress with education, jobs, and have enjoyed a productive, young adulthood where they’ve explored life and challenged themselves.  Sure, young people make a lot of mistakes and experiment with different relationships, identities, often drugs and alcohol, but hopefully, these journeys into self and world discovery are productive and when things prove destructive, they learn from the experience, make adjustments and move on. 

This is not the case with your daughter.  For her, the cycle of drug abuse won the day and that’s affected her progress in life and likely her neuro-development as well.  I’m sure she has not grown her executive functions the way she could, and she’s now delayed in those areas.  Now it may very well be true that her involvement with marijuana is related to anxiety and she’s been doing what’s called self-medicating, where someone uses alcohol or drugs to reduce emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc.

Now if we think from a medical model, sure if someone has anxiety or depression, what medicine do we have for that?  Even in that model, a good psychiatrist is not going to prescribe marijuana, particularly to an addict in recovery.  But in a wellness model, we don’t think about medicating our problems, we think about how to deal with life’s challenges, with our humanness, our feelings, and our problems.  We use wellness skills to manage difficult feelings and problems. 

How to Manage Anxiety Productively

Anita, your daughter has not been developing herself for a long time and has serious catching up to do.  If we are trying to improve our lives, the question to ask with any behavior is, is it a net positive or negative in our life.  Your daughter claims that marijuana is a positive in her life.  I seriously doubt it.  She needs to learn to deal with her anxiety productively.  How do we manage anxiety? What are the healthy skills to use?  We either want to address a stressful situation directly, for instance, if we have a responsibility we have to take care of that’s making us anxious, go ahead and take care of it so that you’ll feel less anxious.  Or change how we deal with the problem emotionally.  For instance use, self-soothing skills, mindfulness, rethink the situation so that it’s less overwhelming. I’m sure your daughter was taught many of these strategies in her rehab program. Here are some other gems: get emotional support, do things that are self-valuing and make her feel good about herself.  How about diet and exercise, two huge factors in how we feel. 

Anita, let’s look at another aspect of this.  What are your daughter’s long-term goals? What are her interests and talents? What is her plan for moving towards a goal that engages her interests and talents?

It’s not enough that she’s clean and sober, because if she isn’t moving towards something important and compelling, she’s just surviving and that ‘s a recipe for problems.Click To Tweet

A Successful Recovery Process

It’s not enough that she’s clean and sober, because if she isn’t moving towards something important and compelling, she’s just surviving and that ‘s a recipe for problems.  She doesn’t need a specific career goal.  Let’s just say she’s very social and very artistic.  Should she be moving in the direction of marketing?  How about some business or communications classes?  There are a million hypothetical scenarios I could imagine but there needs to be a direction that she can relate to and feel motivated and excited by. 

Let’s say she and you agree that she needs to start taking classes at her community college, but she’s had problems with academics in the past.  How are we going to leverage success this time?  How about some educational testing, educational support and let’s make sure her schedule includes a class or two that are going to be fun such as figure drawing and yoga, for instance.

Now back to the marijuana question.  How does marijuana fit with this path forward? Is it going to support success or is it going to undermine success? Generally speaking, marijuana use correlates negatively with educational success.

Anita, what you could do with your daughter is sit down and establish clear goals and actions and then look at everything that will support success and everything that can undermine it.   For instance, having a to-do list for each day, getting up at a certain time, having specific NA meetings to attend, yoga class, are all on the will support success side of the ledger.  I’m thinking marijuana use, would be on the undermines success side of the ledger, just like hanging out with her old drug-using friends. 

Just coming out of rehab, your daughter is high risk for relapse. If she is going to be successful, she needs to embrace all the elements of success and reject all the potentially negative elements.Click To Tweet

Now one other area to talk about here; what have the family dynamics been like?  After all, your daughter and you and whomever else are in the family have a family dynamic that is part of the problem whereby your daughter became involved in drug abuse and stayed involved in drug abuse. No doubt your family is part of the beginning of a successful path forward where she went to and finished a rehab program.  What are the healthy aspects of your family dynamic and what are the unhealthy dynamics that support your daughter’s dysfunction?  I don’t know the answer to that but knowing the answer is critical.  Maybe a dynamic is that she lobbies for lower expectations and you agree thinking that half a loaf is better than none.  I don’t know and that’s where having an experienced family therapist in the recovery plan as well as an individual therapist for your daughter as well and perhaps even a sobriety coach. 

Anita, orthodoxy in substance abuse treatment is that using some drugs, and just staying away from the worst ones is like changing seats on the Titanic.  It’s a setup for failure.  If your daughter needs medical help with her anxiety until she can do the emotional maturing she needs to do, she should see a psychiatrist who is experienced working with young people and addiction.  That way they can make a proper psychiatric diagnosis, prescribe non-addicting medication if appropriate, and be part of her recovery team.

In Conclusion

If you have a teenager or young adult who is trying to turn around a substance abuse problem, yes, sobriety is everything, but don’t forget the bigger picture. Who is this young person and what is their potential, what are their dreams? Click To Tweet Now, how as their parent, friend or therapist can I be a supportive part of their path forward, and not inadvertently support relapse?  Undeniably, changing one’s lifestyle and rejecting all the self-destructive behaviors of one’s past and embracing all new behaviors is pretty radical.  Yes, recovery is not for sissies. 

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and many thanks to you Anita.  I’ve sent you a copy of my book, it should arrive shortly.

If you’re enjoying and benefiting from HFC, please leave a review for me there on iTunes and for this month of May, if your question is selected for my podcast, we’ll send you a free copy of my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle.  And I really mean it when I say, please prioritize taking care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.

Bye for now.


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