The Dangers of the Marijuana Maintenance Program

Substituting smoking pot for drinking alcohol

Man Smoking Marijuana Joint
'Marijuana Maintenance' Can Be Dangerous. © Getty Images

In order to stop drinking, some people who have become dependent on alcohol will take the controversial step of substituting the use of marijuana for alcohol, a practice that is known as the Marijuana Maintenance program.

Those who defend the use of marijuana to help themselves stop drinking argue that the use of marijuana is much less hazardous to their health than alcohol. The use of marijuana as a substitute for drinking alcohol, though, does have its own drawbacks, as is illustrated in this email from Justin C., a visitor to the Alcoholism / Substance Abuse site.

Justin's Story

I am an alcoholic and drug addict and have been clean and sober since December 21, 2007.

I had six years sober in AA prior to this; however, I had an episode of marijuana [induced] psychosis that led me back to the bottle after six years. You see, I had been on the marijuana maintenance program.

It finally got me after six years: after picking up a drink, I fought for a year to put it down again. I finally went to a treatment center. I have now been clean and sober seven months and am back at work. I am a social worker by profession.

My doctor tells me that my use of cannabis contributed largely to my mental health problems. I thought that because I had been off the booze for six years that I was OK. I was wrong.

— Justin C.

The Dangers of Marijuana Maintenance

Although the use of marijuana may indeed be less hazardous than heavy drinking — especially to someone who has been drinking excessively for a long period of time — smoking pot comes with its own set of negative effects and consequences:

Also, for those who later decide to quit smoking marijuana, the withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit smoking can be similar to those experienced by people who quit smoking cigarettes.

Is It Recovery If You Are Getting High?

Another factor concerning the use of marijuana to maintain abstinence from alcohol is the debate among those who are in 12-step recovery programs as to whether or not someone is truly recovering if they are still getting high.

Are you really "sober" if you are smoking weed? There are those in the "program of honesty" that would say that you are not.

But then again, there are those who claim that not drinking is the primary purpose, because continuing to drink can be fatal. Therefore, they suggest, go to any lengths necessary to not drink, even if that means smoking pot.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "NIDA InfoFacts: Marijuana." June 2008.

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