Addiction Coping and Recovery Personal Stories The Pros and Cons of Substituting Marijuana for Alcohol By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on November 09, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Diverse Images / UIG / Getty Images What Is Marijuana Maintenance? Some people choose to substitute marijuana for alcohol if they are trying to stop drinking—a controversial practice referred to as marijuana maintenance. Those who support the practice argue that marijuana is far less hazardous to a person's health than alcohol (the same argument is often used when comparing marijuana to cigarettes). Those who are opposed to the practice argue that the goals of sobriety are never truly achieved if a person replaces one mind-altering drug with another. Here are the pros and cons of replacing alcohol with marijuana, as well as resources you can turn to if you are trying to quit drinking or using substances. Marijuana: Everything You’ve Been Afraid to Ask Potential Pros of Marijuana Management Supporters of marijuana management programs are often quick to point out that the evidence on the effectiveness of traditional recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is largely split. The findings from a 2006 Cochrane review of studies demonstrated no significant difference in the results achieved by people in AA compared to other treatment models. Furthermore, even the studies that attributed benefits to the AA methodology concluded that successful sobriety was more associated with the frequency of meeting attendance than the 12-step model itself. Alternative to Abstinence-Only For those who are unable or unwilling to regularly attend AA meetings, the rate of failure was high. Supporters argue that it is these individuals who might benefit from using marijuana management. The model recognizes that for some people, abstinence-based programs are unrealistic and unachievable. Those who are in favor of the practice argue that many of the ill-effects of alcohol detoxification might be softened if a person is able to taper off alcohol gradually while using marijuana. Harm Reduction Supporters of marijuana management programs often argue that the drug has been demonized. Those in favor of its use argue that unlike alcohol, marijuana can be used without the risk of death from binging. They also point out that it has fewer drug interactions than alcohol and possibly has much less of an impact on one's long-term health. Health Benefits Additionally, proponents argue that marijuana might have some inherent benefits compared to alcohol. While there is ongoing debate about whether moderate drinking has possible health benefits, the effects of alcohol misuse can be catastrophic, contributing to an increased risk for breast cancer, birth defects, and other health issues. Marijuana, on the other hand, is purported to have some health benefits that can make it useful in certain situations. For example, marijuana is frequently used to alleviate pain, stimulate appetite, and enhance moods. For an individual who is recovering from alcohol use disorder, these properties could be beneficial. Types of Cannabis and How It's Used Potential Cons of Marijuana Management Those who are opposed to marijuana maintenance argue that it is founded on the premise that marijuana is not only safer than alcohol but that it is tacitly safe. They argue that because there is no evidence to support that premise, it is unfounded and even unconscionable to advocate for marijuana management. Marijuana Dependence The foundation of alcohol recovery is based on recognizing that alcohol is harmful and that a person has no control over their use of the substance. Softening the blow inherently suggests that marijuana is something over which a person can have greater control. It also infers that the self-awareness a person is meant to achieve during recovery can wait until they are stronger and no longer need marijuana or alcohol. One of the most significant potential pitfalls of using marijuana as a replacement therapy is the possibility of dependence. Research suggests that 30% of people who use marijuana develop cannabis use disorder to some degree. Negative Health Effects Detractors say that the practice only aims to replace one habit with another under the guise that marijuana is the less-harmful alternative. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this may not be the case. There are several concerns associated with marijuana use, including: Marijuana can have a long-term impact on a person's health. For example, it has been associated with bone density loss, reduction of exercise tolerance, impairment of memory and cognitive skills, and an increased risk of lung conditions. Marijuana might contribute to underlying mental health conditions that are common in people who misuse alcohol. Marijuana might have the potential to act as a gateway drug. In theory, it could lead people with addictive behaviors to use other dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. Reduced Treatment Effectiveness Some evidence also suggests that marijuana use can actually interfere with efforts to stop using alcohol. One 2015 study found that concurrent marijuana use lowers a person's odds of achieving abstinence from other drug or heavy alcohol use. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 12 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Lee CA, Derefinko KJ, Davis HA, Milich R, Lynam DR. Cross-lagged relations between motives and substance use: Can use strengthen your motivation over time?. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017;178:544–550. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.05.027 Ferri M, Amato L, Davoli M. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes for alcohol dependence. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(3):CD005032. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005032.pub2 Keyhani S, Steigerwald S, Ishida J, Vali M, Cerdá M, Hasin D, et al. Risks and benefits of marijuana use: A national survey of U.S. adults. Ann Intern Med. 2018;169:282–290. doi: 10.7326/M18-0810 Harvard School of Public Health. Alcohol: Balancing the risks and benefits. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana as medicine DrugFacts. Oscar-Berman M, Marinković K. Alcohol: Effects on neurobehavioral functions and the brain. Neuropsychol Rev. 2007;17(3):239–257. doi:10.1007/s11065-007-9038-6 Hasin DS, Saha TD, Kerridge BT, et al. Prevalence of marijuana use disorders in the United States between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(12):1235-1242. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1858 National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is marijuana? NIDA. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Marijuana DrugFacts.. Volkow ND, Swanson JM, Evins AE, et al. Effects of cannabis use on human behavior, including cognition, motivation, and psychosis: A review. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(3):292-297. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.3278 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Is marijuana a gateway drug?.. Mojarrad M, Samet JH, Cheng DM, Winter MR, Saitz R. Marijuana use and achievement of abstinence from alcohol and other drugs among people with substance dependence: A prospective cohort study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014;142:91-97. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2014.06.006 Additional Reading Andrade, C. Cannabis and neuropsychiatry, 1: Benefits and risks. Clin Psych. 2016; 77(5): e551–4. doi:10.4088/JCP.16f10841. Kaskutas, L. Alcoholics Anonymous effectiveness: Faith meets science. J Addict Dis. 2009; 28(2):145-57. doi:10.1080/10550880902772464. By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.