Cannabis. Breaking the Routine

What is the link between Cannabis and a lack of goal achievement?

In an earlier post I stated that Cannabis hijacks the intrinsic reward pathways normally obtained from performing activities in a flow state (a state of complete focus and enjoyment while performing a skill). Link to article. There may be another factor involved.

Daily drug use leading to getting stuck in a routine of sameness.

I discussed the ideas of flow and motivation with a patient the other day. His complaint was that he never finished college and if he could’ve only done so he wouldn’t have had to work in his current mediocre job. He said that when he started using cannabis on a daily basis his life became very routine. He would wake and bake, go to school, get home, smoke, play video games, eat then sleep. This became a daily routine. The school work became uninteresting and if he had homework he tended to rush through it the day it was due. This routine continued until he became so little motivated that his grades suffered. His attitude never changed even when threatened with dismissal. He would feel bad sure, however simply smoked again and felt better, for a short while. Eventually he dropped out of college and got a job as an auto mechanic. At this job he did the same. Always the bare minimum to get by to ensure a paycheck to support his one habit. Still no real change or satisfaction. Still smoking first thing in the morning and several times during the day. He says that many times he didn’t even feel the effects anymore. He would manage to abstain for a day or so to lower his tolerance just enough to be acceptable again. Cannabis became a part of his life, a part of who he was. Nothing else.

This monotonous routine seems to be somewhat universal to chronic cannabis users (as well as other drugs of abuse). They all share this day-in-day-out-sameness. Most of them do in fact dream of a different life and even go so far as dreaming up grand ideas to advance in life but never seem to get there.

Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to fall into these routines by default. The brain prefers to automate as much function as possible. It is a way for the brain to free up resources to do other things like ensure survival. This is not a bad thing, especially if part of your routine is self improvement or working on your business etc. in the cannabis users’ case the smoking habit precedes other good habits. A routine of good habits will ensure growth and improvement. A routine involving bad habits will eventually cause destruction.

This routine of a “bad habit” is what inhibits forward progress or simply inhibits implementing “a good” habit that will lead to further development in the individual. Imagine an overweight person who desires to lose weight and get in shape. Their routine contains the exact habit that is anti-good habit. The habit of eating excessively over time will lead to excess weight. If they can simply replace eating a calorie rich diet with a low cal high exercise habit they would reach their goal. This radical shift requires one to abandon one’s old ways and old habits completely and adopt new ones.

The book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear gives good advice on adopting good habits. If you want to do pushups every day, do the least amount tolerated and link it with an already established reward, for example do only 10 pushups right before tuning in to Netflix. Do this every day and soon it will become routine. Once the habit of doing 10 pushups is established, multiplied over time you will get to a goal of 100 pushups a day by default. Easy right? The problem with substance addiction is that first one has to GIVE UP a very rewarding habit. It would be like giving up watching Netflix in order to do 10 pushups every day. Seems impossible. This would require a radical shift in ones thought process.

Companies have used this strategy to increase sales. The introduction of carbonation in soft drinks exploded the industry. When coca-cola first marketed their sugary drink that tickles the throat sales soared through the roof. Wrigley chewing gum introduced the flavored bubble gum. Colgate introduced the minty toothpaste with a little backing soda that would again give a tactile sensation in the mouth, a tiny little reward for using the product.

Unfortunately our brains work against us in this regard. Our brains are naturally lazy in the sense that they try to conserve energy and maintain a comfortable medium. To radically change our habits will take great effort. To make this radical shift will cause significant stress to the brain. Giving up Cannabis completely will result in withdrawal, depression, poor sleep etc. The logical solution is to slowly decrease the amount of drug or alcohol used however in the addicted brain the person can not control this. No matter how hard they try they cannot wean themselves of their substance over time.

The only solution seems to be to quit cold turkey and accept the withdrawal and the psychological stress that follows, but what if there was another strategy.

Consider this, combine the slow decrease in drug use with another reward.

Take smoking cigarettes for example. If you smoke 10 a day, start smoking 9 and a half, count them out in the morning and plan for the day. A plan is crucial here, if you go by feeling your animal desire brain will simply take over. No when you get to the half cigarette, once you put it out, reward yourself with a treat or a show or whatever. Now do this for a few days and eventually your brain should start associating the incremental decrease in a previous reward with the increase in a new reward. Replace the harmful reward for a less harmful one slowly but surely. Now smoke only 9 a day and again add a reward for the one half cigarette less.

This strategy could be applied to any drug or amount of alcohol. Measure out your fifth of vodka in the morning. Throughout the day drink exactly what will get you through the day. Once the measurement is established, start decreasing incrementally and increasing another reward incrementally.

I hope this helps my friends.



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