Smoking and Recovery: Unhappy Bedfellows

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Smoking and Recovery: Unhappy Bedfellows

Here’s a startling statistic: More than 50% of people in recovery from drug and/or alcohol addiction will die from a smoking related illness or condition. This means that more than half of people in recovery are really still dying from an addiction - an addiction to nicotine. Look around your AA or NA meeting - imagine half of the folks being gone because of tobacco. In fact, Bill W. and Dr. Bob, founders of AA both died of smoking-related diseases.

Smoking is often the “elephant in the room”; the topic that even friends in “the program” won’t broach with other friends who are smokers for fear of alienation, defensiveness, anger and even insults. However, you can bet these same friends would go to any lengths to get their friends back on the road to recovery if they started using drugs or alcohol again. You probably know folks who talk about being “chemical free” all while smoking a cigarette!

It’s estimated that 21% of the general U.S. population smoke cigarettes. However, among chemicallydependent people this rate jumps to 80%-95%. Researchers agree that smoking and addiction to nicotine among recovering people is more than TRIPLE that of the general population. Okay, so we know this is a big health issue and we know that most people would quit if they could. Let’s talk about how and when to quit and dispel some of the myths associated with drug and alcohol recovery and quitting the use of tobacco products.

Scientific researchers have found that quitting alcohol and cigarettes at the same time actually enhances the chances of maintaining sobriety. The reason? Nicotine can increase the craving for alcohol, especially for those who always drank and smoked at the same time. The two substances access the same neural pathways in the brain. If you avoid stimulating certain areas of your brain, your cravings are reduced. Put another way, continuing to smoke actually puts your recovery at risk -- it is a co-occurring chemical addiction. If you didn’t quit when you stopped drinking or using drugs, it absolutely isn’t too late. Quitting at any time will improve all the aspects of your life, including your recovery.

Most (more than 50%) recovering alcoholics want to quit smoking and over two-thirds have tried to quit smoking at least once. Usually, the main reason folks fail is that they try to do it alone (sound familiar?). Rather than use the same support tools they used to quit drinking or using drugs - medical treatment, professional counseling and support group participation - they try to quit without help. And, like with drugs or alcohol, people in active addiction tend to surround themselves with other smokers, thus really limiting their chances of success.

If you or your loved one is in recovery, you have already proven that you can be successful, one day at a time, over a very powerful adversary - drugs or alcohol. You can succeed in overcoming nicotine addiction in much the same way. Here’s a game plan that experts suggest:


Prepare to Quit with a Quit Plan


1. Develop a support team and tools - see link below to Resources. Discuss your desire to quit with your healthcare provider - there are quitting aids they may prescribe to help ease cravings.

2. Have a post-quitting list of people, places and things (just like you did with drugs or alcohol) so yo can avoid many of the things that could derail your cessation plan.

3. Choose a Quit Smoking Day and coordinate it with your doctor or other support professional. (one person knew she was going to buy a new car soon, so she set her quit date to coincide with buying her new car. She didn’t want her new car to stink of cigarettes, and, she knew that if he car didn’t smell of smoke, it would be a less of a trigger to her each time she got in it. Scheduling her quit date with this kind of lifestyle change was a smart idea.)

4. Surround yourself with people who have succeeded, who will cheer you on. And, if you slip, it doesn’t have to be the end of your effort. Get right back to your quit plan.


The Many Benefits of a Smoke-Free Life


Much like the Promises of AA and NA, there are many benefits that will come to you once you put down tobacco. You’ll taste food again. You’ll smell better - your olfactory sense will improve AND you personally will smell better? You’ll have money to use toward healthy things like buying a bicycle, having a massage every month, going on a vacation or buying something for your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews. Your body starts to heal itself as soon as you stop. You’ll be reducing your risk of death and disease related to smoking - cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis - the list goes on. Not to mention the benefits to friends, family, children and even pets that will no longer be exposed to your second-hand smoke and the health risks associated with it. You can rejoin society as a full participant. You may even go after that job you always wanted but couldn’t take, because you couldn’t imagine doing the job without constant breaks for your nicotine addiction.

Please visit You can do it. You’ve worked so hard to regain your life from drugs or alcohol; you deserve to now live a healthy, unencumbered life. Take your body back!


Reprinted with permission from Father Martin’s Ashley.