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A lot of people smoke marijuana at some point in life, and of all the people who try it, between about 9% and 15% will become addicted.

And since marijuana smokers number in the hundreds of millions worldwide...this equates to a lot of people addicted to what used to be considered a non addictive drug!

Of those 9% to 15% that develop a marijuana dependency, some will quit using successfully and others will have a harder time curtailing use - and for many people, successful cessation of use takes years of tries and failures.

Fortunately, thanks to some clever Australian research, we now have a better understanding of the characteristics of successful quit attempts and successful quitters - and the characteristics of less successful quit attempts among people who wind up continuing their use.

The Characteristics of Successful Marijuana Quit Attempts

The researchers wanted to know what types of people were more able to quit using marijuana and what quitting strategies worked best to help them stop using, and to find out, they studied two groups of people:

  1. People who had been smoking at least once a week for at least a year who had successfully give it up
  2. People who had been smoking at least once a week for a year who had tried at least once within the past year to stop, but had failed to do so

Here's what they found out...

The Importance of Environment and Personal Choice

On average, people more able to quit using:

  1. Were better educated
  2. Had less daily exposure to other people using marijuana
  3. Were using smaller amounts of marijuana in the period leading up to their quit attempt

So though in the short term you can't do much about your education level you can improve your odds of success by tapering down your daily use in the weeks leading up to a quit attempt and by limiting your exposure (and temptation) after quitting by reducing your contact with people still getting high, or at the very least, seeing these people only when you know they wont be smoking or high in front of you.

Strategies Used By Those Who Quit Successfully

  • People who successfully quit marijuana are 2.1 times more likely to make use of coping strategies than people who fail in their quit attempts. Examples of coping strategies include planning for ways to handle stress and negative emotions other than smoking marijuana and planning for ways to cope with high temptation situations.
  • People who failed in their attempt to quit marijuana were 1.6 times more likely to use motivation strategies as a primary quitting tool. Examples of motivation strategies include thinking about the benefits of quitting and/or thinking of the costs of continuing to smoke

Experts say that motivation enhancement strategies are useful tools in a quit attempt, but the lesson here is that they don't work well as a primary or only quitting tool.1

The Take Home Message... The Importance of Coping Strategies

People who prepare coping strategies to deal with the distress and temptation of quitting marijuana are more than twice as likely to succeed, so if you're serious about stopping your marijuana use you need to get equally serious about preparing for success by planning for how you'll deal with the stress and temptation that accompany most quit attempts.

Here some coping strategy ideas to get you started:

Reduce the Stress in Your Life

Stress, frustration and anger are all major causes of relapse so it's important to develop coping skills, other than getting high, to deal with these negative emotional states. But in addition to working on stress management skills, you might also want to take steps to reduce your exposure to stress, at least for the first couple of weeks of abstinence. 

Pick a quiet time at work or school to make your attempt, forgo stressful social situations and at least temporarily avoid those people and situations that tend to get you stressed out and riled up.

Minimize Your Exposure to Temptation

You can't avoid temptation but you can minimize your exposure. 

Make a list of the people, places and situations you associate with marijuana use and make an effort, at least during the initial few weeks of abstinence, to minimize your exposure to these temptation triggers.

Make a strong effort also, to rid your home environment of drug paraphernalia.

Make a Plan for Dealing with Stress

You can try to minimize your exposure to stress but you'll never eliminate it entirely, especially since the insomnia and irritability of marijuana withdrawal only increase your stress sensitivity.

So how will you deal with stress? 

Some effective non-drug-using strategies include deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and aerobic exercise.

Prepare for the Good Times

Though stress and frustration can trigger relapse, positive feelings and a need for celebration can also lead you back to smoking once again.

If you're like many, celebrating life's victories called for a joint or three...so what will you do now when you get the urge to let loose?

Only you can answer this question, but it's wise to prepare for the good times as well as the bad, and have a plan ready for how you'll celebrate and have fun without lighting up.2

Make a Plan to Deal with Cravings

Cravings are coming. How are you going to handle them?

Better to think about it and plan for them now than be blindsided when they get too strong.

Although you might think that you can handle cravings by force of will and denial, research shows cravings are more easily handled when you accept them for what they are, experience them fully as you let them wash over you and know that, like a wave in the ocean, they'll soon crest and dissipate in strength.

Learn more here about this effective technique called urge surfing to surf through the worst of your cravings.

Other strategies that can help are to prearrange to call a sober friend or family member for support when cravings are at their worst or to distract yourself with other enjoyable activities when you're feeling the urge to light up.

Another effective strategy is to list your reasons for quitting on an index card (the pros of quitting and the negatives of continued use) and to keep this card on you at all times. When cravings strengthen, reading about why you're quitting can help to boost your motivation and resolve.3

Remember, though cravings feel like they'll never end, they'll always disappear within 20 minutes or so and the longer you resist them for, the weaker they get.

Get Professional Help or Peer Support

If you can't do it on your own, get some outside help.


  • Attending NA or MA meetings
  • Talking to a therapist or addiction treatment counselor
  • Attending an outpatient addiction treatment group
  • Seeking residential care (may be appropriate for those with co-occurring disorders, a lack of social support or a demonstrated inability to maintain abstinence on an outpatient basis.)

Although a lot of people feel reluctant to seek assistance for marijuana addiction, if you can't break your dependence on your own, it is very appropriate to seek professional help.

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Page last updated Aug 21, 2012

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