Smoking and Alcoholism: How to Fight Multiple Addictions
The mechanisms at play in people who drink alcoholically are very similar to the mechanisms that lead to smoking addiction. In fact, the smoking rate among chemically-dependent people is estimated to be as high as 90%, while smoking rates in the general population have dropped to roughly 21%.
As a former practicing alcoholic, I know firsthand how important it is to come face-to-face with admitting that there’s a problem before any steps can be taken to get clean. Over 12 years ago, I was fortunate enough to see the light before I had gone too far down the path of alcoholic self-destruction (and believe me when I say that I had already gone pretty far down that path).
After trying to quit smoking on and off for the previous 20 years. I had come to the realization that I simply could not quit smoking while I was still drinking. And for a long time, I just wasn’t ready to quit drinking. Once I became sober, I figured that pretty soon I could quit smoking and finally become addiction free.
During my early days of recovery, I came across many sober people who advised me not to try to quit smoking right away - that it was enough for me to focus on my sobriety. One thing at a time, one day at a time. So I focused on becoming sober first.
But it took me five years of sobriety to finally say goodbye to the cigarettes. I relapsed so many times I lost count - I am sure it was literally hundreds. I felt like a crazy woman. I could not understand how I could become sober from drinking but couldn’t put down the damn cigarettes.
I know many people take years of trying to quit drinking before they succeed. Relapse among alcoholics is quite common. If we’re very lucky, the wake-up call to sobriety is one that rings loud and clear, even if it takes a while to clear the lingering brain fog and the accompanying wreckage of our past.
It felt so much harder for me to quit smoking than it was for me to quit drinking. In some ways, quitting drinking wasn’t so hard once I admitted that it was ruining my life. It was just admitting it that took me decades to do.
Admitting that cigarettes were a problem was relatively easy for me - I did not want to smoke. I wanted to quit. I kept trying to quit, yet I kept going back to them time and time again.
In hindsight I wish that I had seen the smoking for what it was - a way to hang onto my dependent behaviors. I took refuge in smoking because I could no longer take refuge in drinking. Smoking was not considered nearly as bad for me by my sober peers as drinking and if I needed a smoke to get through a bad day, that was far better than going for a drink. That logic allowed me to relapse and smoke while reassuring myself that at least I wasn’t drinking!
But smoking was definitely killing me - it was just doing it in a more insidious manner - after all, how bad could one more cigarette be? But one cigarette is just like one drink to a recovered alcoholic - it wakes the sleeping monster of craving and drives us to seek more. And recent studies show that smoking may even interfere with alcohol recovery, especially in the first six to nine months.
I’ll explore this topic more in my next post, Alcoholism and Quitting Smoking, Part II.
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