Cigarette smoking is incredibly common in addiction recovery. Most people in recovery view cigarettes as their “one vice” outside of caffeine, and use smoking as a way to deal with life’s stresses- not to mention the social aspect. At any given 12-step meeting, you will generally find a huge crowd of people standing outside smoking and chatting. But while it is no secret that smoking is terrible for you, a new study shows it may be even more harmful for recovering addicts.
New Study Finds Smoking Hinders Recovery
A new study out of Columbia University looked at a large amount of data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), which included around 34,653 participants. The study looked at participants with a history of substance use disorders, at two different time points. As it turns out, people who smoke cigarettes (either daily or non-daily) had double the odds of relapsing to illicit drug use at the end of a three year period, compared to nonsmokers. More than 11% of smokers relapsed over the study period, compared to 8% of people who quit, and 6.5% of nonsmokers. One of the primary researchers of the study noted that many people believe asking someone in early recovery to quit smoking cigarettes too is asking too much, or that it is a necessary outlet for stress while getting sober from illicit substances. For this reason, many addiction treatment professionals don’t push the issue of cigarette smoking when recovery from more serious and illegal drugs is the primary focus. However, the results of the study show that quitting cigarettes may be important in supporting and promoting long-term recovery. While quitting smoking is difficult, it is entirely worth it if it helps you to remain sober and continue on a path of recovery.
Why is This?
The study does not detail specific reasons why smoking may hinder recovery. However, several factors are likely at play and may contribute. For one, nicotine is technically a stimulant. Smoking cigarettes triggers the same brain pathways involved in addiction to illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine, although granted to a much lesser extent. However, it is possible that nicotine use “primes” the brain for a relapse- making the user crave the stimulant sensations. Additionally, cigarette smoking is still dependence on a chemical substance to feel “ok.” As any smoker will tell you, any amount of stress or certain other triggering situations create a “need” to smoke. This is less dependence that an addict is putting in their higher power and in their program. The use of cigarettes as an outlet may hinder growth in key areas of recovery- likely not noticeable, but this could ultimately contribute to the results seen in this study. And finally, it’s unclear whether the rates of relapse in smokers seen in the study represent failed attempts at quitting smoking. While successfully quitting may promote recovery, trying to quit and feeling the resulting stress of this may have influenced the results of the study in pushing some people towards a relapse. The key is to have a solid plan in place, and talk to your doctor if possible, about the best way to quit smoking without feeling the residual stress.
Link to study can be found here.
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