We’ve seen it on the news, in our communities, in our family, friends, and maybe in ourselves: people are addicted. Addiction pulls families apart and destroys lives, while at the same time costing society a fortune in costs related to crime, lost work productivity, prevention and treatment programs, and overall healthcare for the addicted. These costs are upwards of $800 billion a year in the United States alone . The desperation the addicted and their families can feel is overwhelming and often people find themselves spending more money than they can afford attempting different treatments to cure addiction.
Unfortunately, addiction frequently leads to death. Every year 480,000 Americans die from cigarette addiction  and more than 70,000 die from drug overdose . This number doesn’t take into consideration those whose addiction damages their health so badly they are later driven into death or serious, debilitating medical conditions. Simply put, addiction is a life or death struggle.
The cost of addiction is high, both in respect to finances and human life. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why so many people will do whatever they can to find treatment for themselves or their loved one, but what treatments have been proven to work? What treatments have the best outcome for sustained success? Researchers have repeatedly found that CBD is useful as part of an overall treatment plan for addiction.
How Can CBD Help with Addiction?
CBD is already known for its ability to help people manage their pain, inflammation, anxiety, and sleep, but it’s also being researched for its ability to target and reduce risks associated with drug relapse, drug cravings, and managing behaviors triggered by drugs .
How does it do this? Well, CBD is able to work by directly influencing our endocannabinoid system (ECS). This is the part of our body that is responsible for controlling our mood, behavior, sleep, and even appetite. It strives to create a perfect state of homeostasis within our bodies.
This same system, however, also has a hand in the neurotransmitters that are responsible for dopamine and glutamine, which are responsible for addictive behavior. They intensify the “reward” center of our brains, thereby enhancing the effects of addictive substances and increasing the risk of relapse. Because CBD is able to interact with the ECS system, it can attach itself to these powerful receptors which allows it to regulate the compulsive behavior, helping addicts resist the urge to use or relapse .
Who Can CBD Help?
Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. We lose almost half a million Americans annually because of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, costing the country almost $170 billion yearly in medical costs . There has been a push over the last couple of decades to help people quit smoking tobacco, but with withdrawal symptoms like irritability, restlessness, and insomnia people are struggling to quit once and for all.
However, researchers have found that by providing smokers with CBD during the process of quitting tobacco, users reduced their tobacco intake by 40%! That is a huge number and a life-changing one to many tobacco addicts. When instructed to use CBD whenever they felt the desire for tobacco, research subjects were able to successfully cut back their tobacco consumption more easily and faster than those who weren’t using CBD . Studies have also found that giving addicts actively going through tobacco withdrawal a dose of CBD results in them finding tobacco products less appealing .
Opioids take many forms. Most are familiar with heroin, but other forms of opioids are prescription drugs like fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. While named differently, and slightly different chemically, all of these drugs are able to interact with the opioid receptors and nerve cells in the body and brain. It should be noted that these prescription drugs are considered safe when taken for a short amount of time and as prescribed, however these drugs are also the most commonly abused after a legal prescription has been given .
Every single day, 128 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids . This has become a national crisis that society has been trying to get a handle on for years, yet each year we see more and more deaths. Treatments are expensive and often ineffective 11. Addicts relapse or die before they’re able to find a treatment plan that works for them.
Due to the highly addictive nature of opioids, rehabilitation often fails because the withdrawal symptoms are so severe. Addicts can experience fever, sweating, nausea, vomiting, body aches, anxiety, and insomnia while trying to detox themselves from these drugs. It’s a difficult process and 72 to 88% of people will relapse after recovery .
CBD helps recovering addicts manage and overcome these terrible withdrawal symptoms , and it can help addicts reduce their craving for opioids during and after rehab . Recovering opioid addicts often struggle with cravings for the drug they’ve left behind. It’s one reason many of them relapse and may end up worse off than they were before treatment. However researchers have discovered that by giving recovering addicts a high dose of CBD, they show a noticeable reduction of craving for the drug and in their overall anxiety about the recovery process than those who do not take CBD during treatment .
Even with the rise of opioid addiction in the U.S., alcohol is still one of the most abused substances. More than 14 million Americans abuse alcohol, and it’s the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More than 80,000 die from alcohol-related deaths every year . Just as with opioid treatment, often alcoholics find themselves lost when it comes to finding treatment that provides lasting results and around 80% of them will relapse within a year .
Alcohol withdrawal is a trying process and where addicts sometimes give up in their battle with addiction. With symptoms like anxiety, irritability, sleep disruption, tremors, sweating, nausea, and hallucinations, it’s easy to see why recovering from alcohol abuse is such a difficult hurdle for many to get over.
Current research suggests that CBD may be able to assist alcoholics in reducing the amount of alcohol they consume, as well as providing protection to their liver and brain. Research is preliminary, and very little testing has been done in humans, so far. CBD has been shown to reduce the stress, inflammation, and the death of certain cells in the liver in animal models. It also helps the brain resist alcohol-related damage by protecting the brain cells in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex, resulting in fewer lost cells. Just like with opioids, research has suggested that alcohol recovering addicts may be less likely to relapse if they take CBD as part of their treatment .
Stimulants can be just as addictive and damaging as depressants. Amphetamines kill large numbers of people every year and the increased risk of heart attack or stroke sends more to the hospital daily. In fact, about 9% of all drug-related hospital admissions are because of amphetamines .
While not considered physically addictive, they are psychologically addictive, causing withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, anxiety, irritability, agitation, depression, and paranoia. Thankfully, these are conditions CBD has a proven history of managing. By leveling out anxiety and impulsivity levels, CBD may help keep recovering amphetamine addicts from relapsing. Research shows that even months after the last dose of CBD, recovering study subjects still have less desire to relapse than those who didn’t take CBD during treatment .
One of these things is not like the others? Actually food addiction and binge eating is a serious condition that affects almost 3 million Americans . As with other substance abuse, it leads to many dangerous health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, and bone disease.
Food addiction comes from the reward system in our brains. Researchers have found that food addiction — just like drug addiction — causes a change in the dopamine, acetylcholine, and opioid systems . So the same rush a heroin addict gets from a fix, a food addict gets when eating food. CBD helps control and regulate the reward system, which will consequently reduce the dopamine release that causes cravings .
People often binge eat and find themselves addicted to food as a result of stress or emotional distress. CBD can help manage those feelings, allowing a person to realize when they are just trying to eat emotionally instead of for sustenance .
Is CBD Right for You or Your Loved One?
Addiction is a disease that can and does affect any and every community. People often feel helpless or alone because of addiction. Treatments can be costly or ineffective, leaving those affected feeling more hopeless than when they started.
When it comes time for a treatment plan that works, CBD may be a beneficial addition. Because of the way CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system and regulates the reward system, it can be a powerful tool when it comes to controlling cravings and the risk of relapse. CBD has proven itself a powerful tool in controlling anxiety and stress, so it may lend itself to help recovering addicts manage their emotions while working through their addiction issues and towards a brighter future.
Only you know for sure if CBD is right for you or a loved one suffering from addiction. As you’ve seen in this article, the benefits of adding CBD to the treatment may be many. Always talk to your doctor before adding CBD to your routine and communicate any concerns you may have to a healthcare professional.
Finally, if you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, there is help available to you. Please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for more information.