Almost any addiction treatment provider will tell you that a strong support system is key to finding success in recovery. And for many users, support comes 20 to a box, 200 to a carton.
Smoking cigarettes has long been associated with substance abuse as studies have shown that people with substance abuse issues smoke at higher rates than the rest of the population. Many people trying to get clean rely on cigarettes as their remaining vice, smoking to calm their nerves when the difficulties of recovery inevitably come up. But now experts say this method of stress management is misguided for more reasons than one.
Research shows that quitting smoking at the same time as other substances will not only improve overall health, but can actually help a person maintain sobriety more effectively. Although difficult, studies suggest ditching the crutch of cigarettes and quitting substances altogether is the best way to achieve lasting sobriety.
Not asking too much
For a long time, smoking cessation was thought to negatively affect those in recovery by limiting their coping mechanisms for stress and other pressures associated with recovery. This gave way to many academic investigations, and although the concept has been studied for years, it wasn’t until recently that researchers compiled a complete analysis of the research that’s been conducted.
A peer review analysis by researchers at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education looked at 24 different studies on the topic. Eleven of those studies reported a solely positive impact, while only four showed solely negative results. The rest showed mixed results, but it is also important to note that none of the studies showed an increase in substance use.
That means that while some may experience difficulties, encouraging clients to quit smoking while in recovery isn’t asking too much, and should be the goal for all health professionals.
“Smoking cessation does not appear to have a negative effect, and often has a positive effect on substance use outcomes,” the authors of the study wrote. “Smoking cessation advice should be offered, without hesitation, to smokers who report substance use and those in treatment for substance use disorder.”
With the majority of research firmly establishing that there are no negative effects of quitting smoking while in recovery, further research suggests it may actually help people stay sober longer. A study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and the City University of New York focused on people with a history of alcohol use disorder and compared those who quit smoking with those who continued to smoke during their recovery. The results showed those who continued to smoke “were two times more likely than nonsmokers to start drinking again three years later.”
Although it is not precisely clear why there is a connection between continued smoking and the increased chance of relapse, researchers suggest it is due to “behavioral and neurochemical links between smoking and alcohol, and the detrimental effects of smoking on cognition.” Whatever the reason may be, experts say to achieve and maintain sobriety, the answer is simple: quit everything altogether.
“Quitting smoking will improve anyone’s health,” says Dr. Renee Goodwin, the study’s lead author. “But our study shows that giving up cigarettes is even more important for adults in recovery from alcohol since it will help them stay sober.”