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Should You Quit Smoking in Recovery?

In most recovery communities, smoking gets a pass. Surveys have found that AA members smoke at a much higher rate and more heavily than the general population. Treatment centers rarely emphasise quitting smoking and many don’t even offer resources to quit smoking. If you are currently recovering from addiction to alcohol or other drugs and you smoke, there are several reasons you might consider quitting now.

Tobacco is the most deadly drug.

In Ireland, more than 200 people a year die from opioid related overdoses. More than 1000 die from alcohol-related causes. More than 5000 die every year from smoking. While smoking deaths don’t often make the headlines, there are a lot more of them. Smoking can cause heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer. Quitting smoking may be the single best thing you can do for your health and to extend your life.

Smokers are more likely to relapse.

Columbia University’s School of Public Health examined more than 35,000 people in addiction recovery. They found that around 11 percent of smokers relapsed within three years. By comparison, only about 8 percent of people who quit smoking relapsed and only 6.5 percent of non-smokers relapsed. In this large sample, quitting smoking reduced chances of relapse by  27 percent. That’s pretty significant.

Smoking is likely a trigger.

For most people, smoking is strongly associated with alcohol and drugs. Smell is a very strong trigger and cigarettes have an unmistakable smell. There is also a sort of ritual associated with smoking. If drinking or drugs are associated with that ritual, stopping short of using might feel like stopping a rolling bus. Quitting smoking removes a major trigger and removes some opportunity to use. Outside of the rooms, most smokers you meet will probably drink as well.

You’ll be slightly miserable anyway.

A common reason for not quitting during treatment is that it’s too much at once. For most habits, it’s true that you only want to change one thing at a time, but in addiction treatment, major changes are often necessary. It’s common to treat dual diagnoses. People in recovery have to start avoiding certain people and places, start going to regular meetings, and make some positive lifestyle changes in order to stay sober. What’s quitting smoking compared to all of this? Some of the biggest challenges people face when they stop smoking is the cravings and irritability. You’re going to be irritable, depressed, and anxious at various times in recovery anyway. It’s not like you’ll realize, ‘Oh, I’m 18 percent more irritable than I would be if I weren’t trying to quit smoking too’. You might as well do it all at once.

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