cannabis and alcohol addiction

Cannabis and Alcohol Addiction – A Safer Treatment 

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive drug in Canada the United States. The Center for Disease Control estimate that 88,000 Americans die as a result of excessive alcohol use each year. In Canada, alcohol is responsible for 2% of all deaths and the number of alcohol related hospitalizations continues to increase (source). As many as 33 million Americans struggle with alcohol use disorder. Here we will discuss the use of cannabis and CBD for alcohol addiction treatment. 

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction

Treatment for alcohol addiction typically includes;

  • medications
  • behaviour treatments, and/or
  • in patient treatment centres.

In our introduction to cannabis and addictions we discussed the low success rate of treatment centres and the large number of relapses. This is one of the numerous reasons individuals are turning to cannabis as an alternative. 

Medications

Medications attempt to offset the changes in the brain caused by alcoholism. The current FDA approved medications are:

  • Naltrexone can help people reduce heavy drinking.
  • Acamprosate makes it easier to maintain abstinence.
  • Disulfiram blocks the breakdown (metabolism) of alcohol by the body, causing unpleasant symptoms such as nausea and flushing of the skin. Those unpleasant effects can help some people avoid drinking while taking disulfiram.

If used appropriately, these medications can have a positive effect on alcohol use but they need to be used with caution. All of these medications have a long list of possible side effects and other drug reactions. The first two can be particularly problematic if the individual is still drinking or using other substances. 

Behavioural Treatments

This involves working with a health professional to identify and help change the behaviours that lead to heavy drinking. Behavioural treatments share certain features, which can include:

  • Developing the skills needed to stop or reduce drinking
  • Helping to build a strong social support system
  • Working to set reachable goals
  • Coping with or avoiding the triggers that might cause relapse

(source)

Alcohol Withdrawal and Cannabis

Alcohol withdrawal is difficult and can even be fatal for some long time users. Therefore, it is important to focus on treatment of withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis can not only be be an effective and healthier substitute for alcohol but it can help individuals to manage the short term symptoms associated with withdrawal. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Shaking hands
  • Nausea  
  • Vomiting 
  • Headache 
  • Insomnia 

We have seen that cannabis can be effective in treating many, if not all, of these symptoms. And studies show that cannabis can be a powerful recovery tool, as many users of cannabis are choosing to consume less of other substances including alcohol.

CBD and Alcohol Addiction: How to use

There is no accepted treatment method of cannabis for alcohol addiction or managing alcohol withdrawal. You should speak to your healthcare professional about safely using cannabis before self medicating, especially those who have been using alcohol for extended periods of time and are at risk of alcohol related illnesses. 

High CBD strains are recommended as they can be used more regularly without causing the psychoactive high. It is likely that regular use is going to be necessary, especially for the first few weeks, or months, as the individual goes through possible withdrawal symptoms followed by their highest levels of cravings. 

Edibles may also be a good option to consider as the effects may be longer and stronger than with other consumption methods. But also edibles often have a stronger body effect, therefore are likely to have a more significant effect on symptoms such as nausea and help manage physical cravings.

For more information on the use of cannabis for addictions and the research that has led us to considering cannabis as a treatment for alcohol addictions check out our introduction article here.

For information on the use of cannabis for opiate addictions check out the next article here.