Smoking and Alcoholism: How to Fight Multiple Addictions, Part II

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • In my previous post, Smoking and Alcoholism - How to Fight Multiple Addictions, I mentioned there are reports that indicate smoking may interfere with recovery for those who are trying to quit drinking. But do we really need to address all our addictions at once in order to be successful?

    In one study reported in the Oxford Journals, “alcohol-dependent individuals who are smokers [may] be more likely to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms.” Also,  “alcohol and nicotine dependencies may reciprocally influence and increase the severity of each other” (reference: http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/42/3/247).

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    What this seems to mean is that smokers who are wanting to quit drinking may be causing their alcohol withdrawal symptoms to worsen by continuing to smoke. If they can eliminate both from their systems at the same time, they can get past the withdrawal pains of each addiction more quickly.

    According to the above-mentioned study, “some individuals may use smoking as a way of ‘self-medication’ in alcohol withdrawal to primarily reduce psychic anxiety although smoking may actually worsen other symptoms.” So, we may feel less anxious if we smoke as a way of dealing with alcohol cravings, but we may also experience more rapid heartbeats, tremors, and sweats.

    I know from my own experience that continuing to smoke while recovering from alcoholism seemed to give me a welcome substitute to fall back upon when I really wanted a drink. I found over time, though, that I was using it as a crutch to avoid my feelings. It wasn’t until I was free of cigarettes too that I felt I could really start to develop as a whole and sober person.

    For some alcohol treatment centers, patients are now required to “check their butts at the door.” This approach addresses the holistic nature of addictions. After all, according to Bernice Order-Conners, LCSW, special populations coordinator with the Tobacco Dependence Program in New Brunswick, N.J., “the behaviors associated with tobacco are all the same behaviors associated with drug and alcohol use” (reference: http://www.itascapsych.com/articles3.html).

    This article goes on to note that “both the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC) have recognized the value of addressing tobacco dependency as a treatment issue.” Additionally, “studies published since 1993 by Stuyt, Hurt, Rustin and others suggest that recovery rates for alcoholism and drug addiction improve among successful tobacco quitters.”

    My personal experience is testimony to the possibility of quitting smoking after first attaining sobriety, but I do believe it would have been much easier to quit smoking if I had tried to do it when I had first quit drinking. Instead, I had people telling me to deal with one problem at a time. What this gave me was an excuse to keep smoking, and for an addictive-type person like me, any excuse sounded good.


  • If you have multiple addictions and can come clean all at once, your chances of success appear to be much greater than if you try to deal with your addictions one at a time. So while those first few weeks may be very difficult, you will be much less likely to have to go through it again because you won’t be as prone to relapse.

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    In my next post, I will look at the effects of long-term marijuana use and quitting smoking.

     

    Read more from Anne:

    Smoking and Alcoholism: How to Fight Multiple Addictions, Part I

    Preparing to Quit Smoking
    How to Quit Smoking: Week 1
    How to Quit Smoking: Week 2

    How to Quit Smoking: Week 3

Published On: July 22, 2008