Study: Cannabis Use Associated with Reduced Alcohol Intake Among Treatment-Seeking Drinkers

Boulder, CO: Cannabis use is associated with a decrease in the amount of alcohol consumed by individuals seeking alcohol treatment, according to data published this week in the journal Addiction.

A team of investigators affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder and with Colorado State University assessed the relationship between cannabis use and alcohol intake in 96 cannabis-using subjects enrolled in an alcohol treatment program. Researchers reported that on days when participants consumed cannabis, their alcohol intake fell significantly. This trend was consistent among those who used heavy amounts of cannabis as well as among those who used only light amounts of cannabis occasionally.

They determined: “Across the sample, individuals drank approximately 29 percent fewer drinks and were 2.06 times less likely to have a binge-drinking episode on days that cannabis was used compared with days cannabis was not used. These patterns were observed in males, females and the infrequent and frequent cannabis use groups.”

Authors concluded, “Heavy drinkers engaged in treatment to reduce their alcohol consumption who also use cannabis appear to increase their cannabis use on days when they reduce their alcohol consumption.”

Commenting on the study’s findings, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Several previous studies have examined whether cannabis is more likely to act as either a substitute or as a compliment for alcohol and, thus far, they have yielded mixed results. This study’s findings are an important addition to this growing body of literature and offer strong evidence that cannabis can act as an intervention for certain persons seeking to reduce their alcohol consumption.”

The researchers had previously reported similar findings in 2020 before the Research Society on Alcoholism. Statewide ecological data has also reported dips in alcohol sales in jurisdictions following the enactment of marijuana access laws.

Separate data published by Harvard researchers in December reported that coerced cannabis abstinence results in increased alcohol intake among younger subjects. Participants’ alcohol intake returned to baseline following the completion of the abstinence period.

Full text of the study, “Effects of cannabis use on alcohol consumption in a sample of treatment-engaged heavy drinkers in Colorado,” appears in Addiction.