Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quitting Smoking In Recovery

Rates of smoking are much higher in alcoholics in recovery than in the general population.
Recovering alcoholics who smoke may think they already quit their worst habit and justify their continued cigarette smoking and nicotine addiction. Many folks in recovery fear trying to quit smoking may put their sobriety at risk, and rationalize that its safer to continue smoking. However, the most common cause of death in long-term recovering alcoholics is related to the health consequences of cigarette smoking! As for sobriety, perhaps they are truly hanging on to their “drug of choice”. 

Old timers talk about the days of AA when newcomers cleaned ashtrays because everyone was permitted to smoke inside meetings. Despite the fact that it’s rare today to find a smoky meeting anymore, there are still plenty of active smokers to walk past on your way inside. Since the beginning, AA’s focus has been solely on alcohol, hence NA forming specifically for narcotics addiction… and there still seems to be a general tolerance for the continued use of nicotine by these recovering alcoholics and addicts alike. 

In the past and sometimes still today, newcomers have been encouraged to not worry about quitting smoking until they get a significant amount of sober time. There is even a tale in the Big Book about a man in early sobriety who relapsed after his wife “nagged” him to quit cigarette smoking! This was likely further fuel for justifying continued nicotine use in sobriety. (Note: it was his “fit of anger” reaction to her nagging, not an attempt at quitting smoking, that led to his relapse.)

Today, many clinicians report that quitting nicotine during initial treatment of alcoholism could actually increase chances of staying sober. Think about it- the typical triggers of relapse are various emotional stressors that lead to the desire to numb feelings or “check out”. In our active addiction, the drug of choice is used to quell stressful unwanted feelings (i.e. anxiety, depression, anger, grief, etc). The sooner one develops tools for managing these stressors without the use of drugs (including nicotine!) the better. Also, if given the chance wouldn’t it make sense to withdraw from everything at once and get it all over with from the start? But unless directed to do so in an inpatient treatment facility, most reading this will not have that chance. 

Here’s a thought for the day: If you are still reaching for that nicotine on a stressful day, are you truly clean and sober? Technically, at least, you are not drug-free. Regardless of your position on this controversy, having put down the alcohol and narcotics addiction… with a clear head today, don’t you now want to be as healthy as possible? For yourself, and for your loved ones? Once sober, we come to a point where we realize we are no longer on a destructive course to an early grave- simply by no longer engaging in the dangers of active alcoholism/addiction. So it makes sense to want to take better care of our bodies since they are going to be around longer than perhaps previously anticipated, and a healthier lifestyle dictates a better quality of life as we continue to age. Quitting smoking is a major lifestyle factor that we do have control over.

Recovering alcoholics and addicts who smoke are more likely to get heart disease, lung disease and cancers of the head, mouth and throat. They are also at risk for an earlier death than those in the general population. It is hard to be happy, joyous and free when battling serious physical maladies. We can take actions today to help ensure happier healthier days and years ahead. Quitting smoking in recovery is possible and tips for quitting smoking naturally are addressed in the next article!

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