Article Thumbnail

What I’ve Learned Helping People Quit Weed — An Addiction No One Believes Is Real

The founder/moderator of r/Leaves believes the subreddit’s recovery strategies are also highly useful when dealing with any curveball life throws at you — like, you know, a global pandemic

As an alcoholic and drug addict for 10 years, Dave knew that as marijuana trended toward legalization, more and more people were going to need support kicking it. “So I made a post on [the popular weed subreddit] r/trees and said, ‘I’m not against people smoking who want to be smoking, but if people don’t want to be smoking and they can’t find a way to quit, we should be helping them as a community.’” 

With that, he started to build r/leaves, an adjacent subreddit to r/trees meant to help those looking to “stop smoking cannabis, marijuana, pot, weed, edibles or getting high.” He proudly tells me that he’s read “every single post and comment ever written in the nine years it’s existed.” In the last couple of weeks, though, the chatter there has never been more intense. “Since the quarantine and social distancing has happened, it’s taken over the sub,” he explains. “I’ve never seen anything take over the thoughts of the group like this.” 

So while there’s no question he’s learned a lot about addiction and how people find strength to overcome it, he’s also become equally adept at dealing with the curveballs life provides more generally — like, you know, a global pandemic.

* * * * *

Everybody who gets high knows somebody who probably shouldn’t be getting high. I honestly believe that for probably 90 percent of the people who use weed, it’s a harmless recreational drug. But that raises our responsibility to deal with the other 10 percent, and a lot of people delay getting the help they need because they’ve got the narrative in their head that weed isn’t addictive — which in a way, is them trying to convince themselves that they don’t have to take this drastic step.

Weed is a little different from other drugs, because for those who develop addiction, it can be death by 1,000 paper cuts. I stay very far away from the whole “it’s not heroin” debate, but we still hear stories from our users that people don’t yet associate with cannabis. That is, people who struggle with an addiction to weed stealing from people that they love, organizing their lives around their use and experiencing job loss and spending money that they needed for food on weed instead. 

I drew a comic about why i quit smoking weed (22 days clean) from leaves

On the flip side, if anybody wants to use r/leaves as a reason for stopping legalization, they will get no support from me whatsoever. I’m a harm-reduction guy. So I don’t have a problem with the inevitability of cannabis being something that’s in our society. But once you say that, you do need to ask, “How do we deal with this in the smartest way possible?”

There’s an old principle in recovery that an addict has moments of strength, but they’re not strong all the time. Right now, many people are trying to figure out how to deal with the general stress of the coronavirus and being quarantined without their usual tool to handle it — getting high. With our group, we’re there for them so they don’t have to make a series of decisions that allow that moment of strength to fade away. 

Nor do they need to leave quarantine for support. We’re always available within seconds to people who want help. r/Leaves is a community of 120,000 people, ready and able to encourage and listen to anyone needing support in an instant. 

Coronavirus Anxiety from leaves

The extent to which people associate all of their major activities with being high is a huge barrier to quitting. And that barrier just got huge. Consider people who have a partner who still smokes. Not only are they unable to get away from it, all everyone is talking about is watching movies and playing video games for two weeks. There’s a chance that many of our users have only played their favorite games high, so trying to play them straight now is particularly hard. 

But as someone in the group beautifully put it, “You’re not using cannabis to enhance the movie, you’re using the movie to enhance the cannabis.” Movies, games, music — they all take re-discovery after you’ve quit. But so many people come back and say that their feelings for them are even stronger once they’ve adjusted to life without the drug.

People assume that “one day at a time” is just some mantra. Like a “Hang in there, baby!” type thing. But it’s not. It’s a stone-cold strategy and one of the first principles in recovery. That is, if you start looking too far into the future, you’ll be overwhelmed by what’s ahead. Your addiction will work on your resolve: “Does this mean I’ll never get high at a concert again? Am I going to be the only one who doesn’t smoke on our fishing trips? I’ve always wanted to smoke in Amsterdam!” You have to say, “You know what, I’ll figure those out when the time comes. All I have to do now is not smoke today.” 

Boredom is never caused by the lack of something, rather it’s a misunderstanding of the present moment. from leaves

And when you wake up tomorrow, make yourself the same exact promise. It works, I’ve been one day away from smoking for 21 years now.

For people who are motivated to make a change, one of the benefits of isolation is that it can clear away a lot of the things that make quitting hard. Trying to quit while having to handle social and work demands is tough, so staying home is a real opportunity for a fresh start. Many of our users are anticipating a tough withdrawal period, and the idea of having to go through that while still going to work is daunting. Now they can dump their stash outside and ride it out in the comfort of their own bunker. 

That said, the boredom of isolation presents problems of its own. That’s where online support groups become a great tool for staying healthy during quarantine. Communities like r/leaves provide an opportunity to be immersed in learning, responding, helping others and getting help yourself. Time can melt away in the most positive way possible, and it gives you a real sense that you’re part of a community outside of your four walls.

This used to be my smoke spot. Now it’s my banana spot. from leaves

Moreover, learning to deal with the difficulties of quitting are skills that help you cope in any stressful times. When many of our members start their quit, they often have to deal with depression, crippling anxiety, insomnia and sleep disruptions. As a community then, we’ve developed coping skills to help deal with all of that. 

Our members really have seen it all, so there’s a ready dialogue when someone is struggling. 

The very first thing you have to do in our group isn’t just hard for addicts, it’s hard for everybody: You have to let yourself be dependent on others, and let others be dependent on you. It won’t work unless you allow yourself to do that. You may have never smoked marijuana in your life, but if you can find a way to make a practice of those connections, it will be hard to ever feel truly alone — no matter how much we need to physically isolate ourselves.