Quitting Cigarettes in Early Recovery: Good or Bad Idea?

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Quitting Cigarettes in Early Recovery: Good or Bad Idea?

When some people decide to give up alcohol and drugs and get sober, they also consider quitting cigarettes in order to live a fully healthy life and have a fresh start. There are a lot of different opinions on this decision. Some say that quitting cigarettes in the first year of recovery is a recipe for disaster because it can cause someone to be overwhelmed by the pressure and difficulty of making so many drastic life changes at once. Others say that the research shows that people who quit smoking at the same time they quit drinking and using have a better chance at achieving sobriety. So, who’s right? Is quitting cigarettes in early recovery the best chance at living a healthy life, or is it a setup for failure?

Quitting Cigarettes in Recovery: The Statistics

Smoking and substance abuse appear to go hand in hand. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), between 80 and 95 percent of alcoholics in the U.S. also smoke cigarettes. The rate of smoking in the general population is much lower, at around 15 percent (CDC.) So, for many people who suffer from substance dependence, quitting cigarettes is also something to consider. In fact, many people who enter treatment for a substance abuse problem express the desire to also quit smoking in an effort to be as healthy as possible. Up to 80 percent of people who seek treatment for addiction also express this desire (NIAAA.) So, quitting cigarettes seems like a great idea to the vast majority of recovering addicts and alcoholics. But it’s a difficult process, and a lot of people disagree on whether or not it’s a good idea to try to quit nicotine in early recovery.

Arguments Against Quitting Cigarettes in Recovery

Most medical professionals, along with the general public, agree that smoking is dangerous and quitting cigarettes is always a good choice. However, some people make the argument that quitting cigarettes during early sobriety can be too overwhelming and actually harm individuals in early recovery. The argument against quitting cigarettes in early recovery are:

  • First things first- quitting cigarettes is important, but it’s better to focus one’s energy on quitting alcohol and drugs first since these substances usually kill more quickly
  • If someone fails at quitting nicotine, they may get discouraged and give up on recovery in general
  • Quitting cigarettes alongside drugs and alcohol is too overwhelming to do all at once
  • The stress of quitting cigarettes can lead to a relapse
  • Smoking isn’t the best coping skill, but as long as it helps reduce stress in early recovery it’s ok to wait before quitting

A lot of people agree that putting too much on your plate in early sobriety can end in disaster, so many people also agree that quitting cigarettes can wait until a recovering individual is more stable.

What Does the Research Say?

Some research actually says that, contrary to what many people believe, quitting cigarettes in early recovery can actually benefit and support sobriety. Researchers at Columbia University conducted a study that found that alcoholics who continued smoking after they stopped drinking were twice as likely to relapse as those who quit both cigarettes and alcohol (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.) Experts think that this is because the brain links nicotine and other substances with one another, and people may subconsciously associate smoking with drinking. Other believe that the two behaviors are so connected to one another in the brain of an alcoholic that quitting both at once may offer the best chance and staying away from all substances. However, another study found that when a treatment center in Ohio switched to being a smoke-free campus, fewer patients stayed for the full treatment term (Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions.)

These two studies indicate that even though quitting cigarettes in early recovery can benefit some people, it must be the individual’s choice to quit smoking in order to be successful. It’s a lot like drugs and alcohol- quitting cigarettes has to come from someone’s choice to make a change for the better, and it usually can’t be forced on someone successfully. Making the choice to get sober– whether that involves quitting cigarettes or not- is a tough but healthy decision. If you want more information on how drug and alcohol addiction can be treated effectively, call Wellness Retreat Recovery today at 888-738-0692.