I’m a 25-year-old living in Chicago, and I regularly use cannabis to push through alcohol cravings. It took me a long while to figure out that I could use cannabis both recreationally and in a way that reduces harm, though.
I wish I had realized earlier how crucial cannabis can be and how crucial it has been in helping me build toward a fulfilling and safe life for myself.
I moved to Chicago on my own in 2018 after having visited only once. That move from the east coast to the Midwest is a blurry memory. It was propelled forward by the idea of going to graduate school for writing, yes, but that was only the cover story I was telling people in my life. Really, I felt I needed to leave Pennsylvania after having witnessed a traumatic event.
Place and memory and feeling are so tied to one another I felt it was best to change my vantage point entirely. Hence, the relocation to Chicago.
—Grad school was just the catalyst to get me there.
People wiser than me would know that putting physical distance between oneself and the location where a traumatic event happened isn’t the same thing as putting emotional distance between oneself and the event. They would know that to get over it you have to face it and go through it clear-headed and with support from people you trust and who respect you.
But I didn’t see it that way in 2017, when the wound was fresh and I was not yet 20 years old.
This is how it happens.
Alcohol abuse was, and still is, a tricky, sneaking thing for me.
Yet, it is hard to avoid blaming myself for not seeing it coming sooner.
I think that has to do with acceptance and self-awareness and where my head was at the time. I knew of my family history. I knew of the threads of alcohol abuse that are tangled in the branches of my family tree.
Despite it, I did what many others who now find themselves in recovery often do:
I thought I was different and able to resist.
Or maybe I flat out didn’t care what happened to me. I indulged in alcohol anyway, frequently alone. Frequently hiding the amount I was consuming.
In Chicago, my alcohol use increased rapidly, both in quantity and frequency. That first year of graduate school, I thought all was okay, citing outside stimuli like pervasive alcohol advertisements and actions of peers as proof that my behavior was normal and didn’t need to be adjusted or examined further in any capacity.
Looking back, I realize now that I was really struggling and hurting and in need of a change before I got lost deeper into drinking.
Luckily, I was recently able to access therapy through an LGBTQ+ friendly organization, Howard Brown, in Chicago. After a phone screening, I was told I would receive treatment from a therapist in the “Recovering With Pride” program.
This was a big moment because I had finally named drinking as a problem.
I had told other people and pushed back against my impulse to hide myself from others.
Previously, I had tried to quit drinking but had framed it as a hiatus instead of abstinence. That time, I made it to right around the 10 week mark before picking up drinking once again, and I kept drinking for months all through the summer.
It wasn’t until January that I got back into therapy and took my sobriety from alcohol more seriously. I was finally ready, at that point, to name avoiding drinking as a priority and a permanent fixture instead of a temporary one.
I learned that I can heal, and that healing for me looks like never picking up a drink again.
Once weekly therapy started, I began noticing a pattern as this was not my first long-term therapist, but my third. Each time I told them of my alcohol intake, they suggested that I lower my intake to be safer. They asked questions about when I was using alcohol and if I was with others or alone.
Conversely, when I mentioned my frequent cannabis consumption, I wasn’t told to lower that usage. I was instead asked if I believed my cannabis use was negatively affecting my life. The answer I always gave was that, no, I didn’t think so.
The way these substances had been treated differently by the professionals who worked with me has been very telling and was the beginning of me unlearning the stigma that is so often attached to cannabis use.
My therapists never seemed to mind my frequent cannabis use, but it wasn’t until my current therapist that cannabis was taken seriously and treated as the harm-reducing medicine that it can be. After all, according to a 2015 study, marijuana use is 114 times safer than alcohol use. In this study, it was found that, “the risk of cannabis may have been overestimated in the past.”
It seems to me that the real issue with marijuana use is the stigma attached to it due to racist and unjust laws throughout history.
Another study that found similar results was reported on by the Washington Post, published in 2014. At the close of the article, the reader is presented with this concise summary of the study’s findings: “If you use marijuana, don’t overdo it. If you’re a teen or a pregnant lady, best not to use marijuana at all.”
Cannabis for harm reduction.
My current therapist has framed cannabis use as harm reduction for me as it keeps me from returning to alcohol.
At an appointment with my doctor, the doctor didn’t suggest I cut cannabis out of my life, but she did suggest I consume cannabis in the form of edibles instead of smoking because, as she put it, “putting any kind of smoke into your lungs isn’t a good idea.” So for her, it wasn’t an issue with the substance itself, but it was an issue of the method of consumption.
Overcoming the stigma.
After tackling the health concerns and understanding the safety of using cannabis it seemed that I only had one issue left to tackle on the topic—my own shame and preconceived notions about what a person who uses cannabis looks like and what it means, socially, to be a person who consumes cannabis.
One thing that has really helped me to let go of that shame was talking to my therapist, but one external thing that has helped me embrace cannabis as a healing medicine is seeing brands and dispensaries treat cannabis with the same care and dignity that one might similarly give to a nice craft beer. It makes a difference to me to walk into a dispensary and instantly be able to see how much care and careful planning has gone into making that space as inviting, clean, and visually pleasing as possible.
That, for me, transforms buying cannabis into something stress-free and enjoyable to experience.
Taking my doctor’s suggestions into account, I’ve been turning more and more toward consuming cannabis in the form of edibles. Like with dispensaries, the visual component of edibles is important to the experience.
I like buying a treat and feeling as if I’m having something artisan, something special.
My personal favorite are the edibles that come in the form of tonics or teas or even cannabis wines which contain THC and CBD but no actual alcohol.
I am abstaining from alcohol entirely, but sometimes I still crave alcohol, specifically wine. I think I miss the experience of drinking wine more than I miss the wine itself.
That’s what makes me excited about Sweet Dreams Vineyards, the company that produces the cannabis wine I previously mentioned. This is a versatile product and great for people in recovery from alcohol abuse as it allows a person to still go to social events and have a drink while also having the drink be safe for the individual.
Of course, as with anything, moderation is key!
This is doubly true when talking about edibles as the effects of taking an edible aren’t immediate and can take anywhere from half an hour to over an hour to kick in fully. If you do choose to try an edible, make sure you have done research and follow suggestions about how much you should consume based on your experience with edibles and based on your body weight.
When used correctly and mindfully, cannabis can be an excellent medicine. I am so grateful to have cannabis be a part of my life, and I would love to see how it can help others to improve their lives, too.