Marijuana Relapse Predictors


Addiction treatment works best when it is tailored to the needs of individuals. This usually happens after an initial assessment and is then ongoing based on progress. And there are general predictors of success: higher motivation to abstain, outside support and whether or not there’s an underlying mental health issue. But we are always looking for specific measures to decide who will probably need more intensive treatment.

Researchers in a small study looked at predictors for relapse in a pool of marijuana users who abstained for two weeks. They found that some (but not all) of the withdrawal symptoms experienced were predictive of whether someone would return to using.

The study, published online, tracked the impairments associated with each person’s withdrawal experience during the two-week abstinent period. They found that when there were:

    • Tension and anxiety
    • Sleep problems
    • Depression
    • Mood swings
    • Loss of appetite

These were correlated with a higher chance for relapse than hot flashes, fatigue or night sweats.

Estimating future risk of relapse

In practice, an intake interview for marijuana detox and rehab might ask patients if they’ve ever stopped using and what withdrawal symptoms they experienced. This information would then be coupled with symptoms reported during detox to estimate the future risk of relapse. A high-risk patient could then be monitored more closely or receive extended inpatient treatment.

The study will need to be duplicated; it only had 49 participants, and those involved were not planning on quitting, nor did they receive any treatment. Interestingly, the data may already be available in existing treatment records from rehab facilities. The comparison would have to be between reported withdrawal symptoms, severity and whether or not a patient relapsed upon discharge. Since court-ordered rehab is usually paired with probation and drug testing, the numbers should be available.

We look forward to seeing whether these results hold up.


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