Smoking and Sobriety… The Last Vice

Coffee and cigarettes – the two main food groups of every recovering addict and alcoholic nationwide. Nothing screams “sobriety” like a white Styrofoam cup full of burnt Folgers and a pack of Newport menthols. Many an ex-addict has brushed off familial or friendly opposition to his or her pack-a-day habit, claiming that nicotine is truly the only vice left. Besides, a heavy smoker isn’t going to smoke one too many, get behind the wheel, and wake up the next morning behind bars. A social smoker isn’t going to suffer a severe lapse in judgment after smoking a particularly potent Marlboro and get into bed with a potentially diseased stranger. Okay, yeah, aside from the fact that nicotine actually does activate reward centers in the brain, it is not considered a mind-altering substance… but does that make smoking okay?

Smoking is Condoned Throughout Most Recovery Communities

Obviously smoking is not recommended for anyone who values the health of their lungs or the wrinkle-saturation level of their skin, but is it more acceptable for recovering addicts simply because they have decided to longer drink or drug?

They say that those who are newly sober should not undergo any major changes during the first year of their sobriety. Obviously, this includes deciding to quit smoking (which, for those of you haven’t tried, is a major, major task to undertake).

The rates of cigarette smoking is 3 times as high amongst recovering alcoholics than the national average. An estimated 21% of American citizens are regular smokers, and this rate jumps as high as 85-90% amongst those who are attempting to maintain prolonged sobriety. Additionally, research shows that recovering alcoholics are more susceptible to the negative effects of smoking than the rest of the general population. Years of heavy drinking and the toll chemical dependency takes on the body over time increases the risk of smoking-related health issues such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Interestingly enough, while quitting smoking undeniably constitutes a ‘major change’, kicking the habit alongside a commitment to abstaining from other chemical substances will not compromise the likelihood of a prolonged and meaningful recovery.

Quitting Smoking Will Not Threaten Sobriety

It is commonly misconceived that the stress caused by quitting smoking is liable to threaten one’s recovery. In fact, most treatment centers do not require clients to quit simply because many employees working in the recovery field smoke themselves. Yet recent studies show that quitting smoking in conjunction with other substances actually improves the chance of maintaining sobriety and reduces the risk of relapse. This is predominantly because nicotine is shown to trigger cravings for alcohol, especially amongst those who smoked and drank simultaneously while active in addiction. Unfortunately, around 85% of individuals who attempt to quit smoking will relapse within a week.

There are many tactical approaches to kicking the habit. Try to ease yourself into complete abstinence by cutting down gradually. Smoke one less cigarette a day, then two, and so forth until you are smoking maybe once after lunch or when you get home from work in the evening. And remember – anything is possible with a little hard work and determination!

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