Smoking and Addiction

Addiction’s Smoking Gun: How Tobacco Use Slows Recovery

Published on June 10, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Cigarettes and addiction recovery: for many, the two go hand-in-hand. After giving up alcohol and/or substance use, many in recovery seek out new stimulants to fill the void. This is completely understandable, but recognizing the risks of high-frequency smoking habits is necessary, especially for anyone in recovery from alcohol and/or substance use disorders.

While the percentage of tobacco use is declining for the majority of Americans, a 2011 study published in the Clinical Psychology Review suggests four out of every five individuals seeking addiction recovery treatment smoke cigarettes. For some, this rate may seem extreme, yet the culture of recovery has a long history of including tobacco as a staple of its identity.

De-Stigmatizing Recovery and Smoking

The idea that cigarettes can bridge the gap to recovery, quite simply, is flawed. For starters, treating tobacco use disorder at the same time as alcohol and/or substance use disorder has proven to be more effective than continuing to smoke throughout treatment. As a matter of fact, smoking during treatment for alcohol and/or substance might delay the brain’s ability to heal and can actually lengthen the recovery process.

In the same study mentioned above, researchers confirmed the findings of previous data finding that smoking functions as an unhealthy coping mechanism for those already in recovery. Research continues to show patients seeking treatment for tobacco cessation while simultaneously in treatment for alcohol and/or substance use are less likely to relapse than those who continue smoking.

Still, many obstacles remain in changing the way we treat tobacco use among those in recovery. A key component is the belief that stability plays a crucial role for recovering individuals. Many treatment facilities worry that the removal of a stimulant as ingrained into a client’s daily routine as tobacco may stress the individual in treatment so greatly it could cause a relapse.

Another issue is the narrow availability of recovery programs aimed at helping people quit smoking. The resources are not as widely accessible as those required for providing alcohol and/or substance use treatment, this most likely due to the tobacco industry. Shifting treatment options to include tobacco cessation may pose difficulties for programs with less flexible options for providing care.

Lastly, a force of influence responsible for many stigmas within our society is tradition. As humans, we are drawn to the recognizable warmth of tradition, popularity, and nostalgia. Similar to any addiction, smoking provides us with a feeling we continue to chase at the expense of our health. Many individuals in recovery smoke perhaps because it is seen as an integral part of recovery.

Some programs even have regular smoke breaks. Changing our perceptions or image of any institution takes time. In light of the research, it seems like including tobacco cessation into treatment for alcohol and/or substance use disorders would be of great benefit to participants in any program.

Smoking Relapses Hurt Just as Much

Anyone who has been through any sort of relapse knows that the experience is humbling. It can feel like a failure which can result in shame and lead to mental unrest, only to increase our chances of yet another relapse. The cycle is like a loaded deck, making it hard for anyone struggling with addiction to seek help. It is difficult to imagine putting in the same amount of work to possibly yield the same result.

Tobacco use operates in a similar way, with many smokers struggling to give it up if they have attempted to do so already in the past. The 2011 study also showed that smokers who have tried to quit in the past display great difficulty stopping smoking tobacco for long periods of time.

However, just like alcohol and/or substance use recovery, anyone struggling to quit smoking needs to know—without a doubt—they are worth the effort and support. Feeling powerless to the constraints of addiction is a symptom of the disorder, not the reality of the situation.

The time has come to share the truth about tobacco use among those already in recovery for alcohol and/or substance use disorders. Given the stigma of chronic cigarette use within recovery communities, it is possible that this insight will be met with some resistance. Remember to only focus on that which you can control. You can control your own relationship with smoking and you can control carefully passing information on the risks tobacco presents to those already in recovery. Whether or not others choose to listen is up to them.

It is natural to replace alcohol and/or substance use with tobacco, or stimulants which may be considered less dangerous by society. Recovery demands a lot, and the routine of smoking offers respite from mounting stress. There is no shame in smoking, but it is important to stay informed about the side effects smoking has on our paths towards recovery, especially given the stigma of people in recovery relying heavily on smoking as a release. Simple Recovery utilizes a comprehensive approach to treat the multifaceted disease of addiction and meet the needs of our clients as individuals. Our addiction treatment integrates the best evidence-based practices, including behavioral therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, and contingency management), community support, and psychiatric services to treat the mind, body, and spirit of each individual that walks through our doors. If you or your loved ones are ready to begin living alcohol and substance-free lives, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.