The relationship between alcohol and tobacco use is widely understood, especially by those who struggle with dependence on one or both of these drugs. Persons struggling to overcome an addiction to alcohol or drugs may attempt to compensate the chemical changes in their body through increased tobacco use.
Many alcohol and drug rehab programs accept that their clients are likely to smoke more during recovery. However, some addiction counselors are finding that success rates for quitting smoking are higher for those who are concurrently seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction. Since the chemically dependent are much more likely to use tobacco and suffer its ill health effects, overcoming a nicotine addiction while seeking treatment for alcoholism can significantly increase a person’s life expectancy and quality of life.
Studies indicate that more than 80 to 95 percent of the chemically dependent are regular smokers. Compare this to roughly 20 to 25 percent of the regular population. This means that the decision of whether or not to quit is much more important to those who have previously struggled with alcoholism or another drug addiction.
Years of alcohol dependence inflict a great deal of stress on the body, which means that recovering alcoholics are at greater risk for tobacco-related illness. Risk is particularly high for cancer and diseases of the heart. As such, a recovering alcoholic who continues to smoke stands a much greater risk of dying from smoking.
With this in mind, quitting tobacco products is one of the single-most important things that a recovered alcohol or drug user can do to live longer and improve their quality of life.
Tobacco is a regular accompaniment to other substances, including alcohol and narcotics. In many cases, nicotine is viewed as the lesser of two evils, since its effect on a person’s behavior is not as pronounced. For this reason, people who have succeeded in quitting one substance often seek to replace it by smoking more.
However, there is another side to this dilemma. Since tobacco is so often used in conjunction with alcohol and other drugs, it can serve as a trigger for relapse later in recovery. A person may subconsciously associate the affects of nicotine with the affects of alcohol. Each time they use tobacco products, they may be unwittingly increasing temptation to return to alcohol. Even when this does not lead to relapse, it still introduces an uncomfortable amount of stress to the body, which can lead to irritability and dissatisfaction.
The majority of alcoholics in recovery have tried to quit smoking at least once in their lifetime. But in many circles, tobacco use is more socially acceptable than excessive drinking or drug use. Those who have successful given up drinking would probably see similar success in their efforts to quit smoking if they were to rely on the same resources and recovery techniques available through alcohol rehab programs. However, the social incentive to quit smoking may not be strong enough to push them in this direction.
Even so, effective organizations and support groups exist for those who want to quit smoking. Groups like Nicotine Anonymous, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association all provide support to smokers looking for a way out of their addiction.
In the past, many addiction therapists were more accepting of tobacco use. This may be due to the fact that the dangers and physical effects of drinking were understood long before those of tobacco use came under scrutiny. But beyond this, there is also a widely held (but poorly documented) belief that trying to quit too many substances all at once generates stress and inhibits success.
However, clinicians find that the opposite is true. The supportive environment of an alcohol rehab program is conducive to working through addiction. Some have even found that success rates for overcoming a second addiction (like one to nicotine) are greater while treatment is being sought for a primary addiction (like one to alcohol or narcotics).
Furthermore, a study carried out by the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that nicotine patch therapy is particularly useful for those who are currently seeking addiction treatment. Patch dosage needs to be customized to the person’s individual needs, which means it is important that the addiction counselor play a central role in establishing a regimen of treatment.
For those who are in the process of overcoming alcoholism through a rehabilitation program, there may never be a better time to quit smoking as well. Dealing with these two substances at once adds credibility to their sobriety, and their freedom from substance dependence will be more complete. With the resources and professional care made available through rehab, the odds of achieving long-lasting recovery are substantial.
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