Smoking Cigarettes vs Recovery
Smoking addiction – and giving up in recovery
Many addicts and alcoholics smoked in conjunction with using drugs or drinking alcohol. In early recovery it is especially hard to give up smoking. In a rehab facility a client may feel some relief from at least not yet having to give up smoking. Smoking however, does pose less of a danger to people in recovery than drugs. For the best part it is extremely difficult to stop smoking and other drugs or alcohol at the same time. The added stress may hurt a client’s chances of successfully addressing their other addictions.
Despite the known health risks of smoking, cigarettes continue to be a popular fixture in the recovery culture. There is always someone you can ‘bum’ a smoke off after a meeting and many deep discussions occur over the haze of cigarette smoke.
But is the risk of cigarettes in recovery worth it?
When those who smoke cigarettes in recovery are asked why they still do it, many respond that it’s “the only thing I have left.” After kicking hard drugs or heavy alcohol use, cigarettes are the only vice that many in recovery can still lean on. Although 12-step programs aim to wean people off substances they are dependent upon, cigarettes and even coffee are not mind-altering substances.
When you are first getting sober, quitting smoking may not be a good idea for you. If smoking helps you stay sober, then it may be a risk that is worth it. Cigarette smokers find that it helps relieve anxiety and stress, two common feelings in early recovery. Though long-term smoking for the remainder of your recovery may not be a goal to strive toward, smoking during the first few years may help you stick to sobriety.
Even so, smoking can still be seen as a crutch and is a highly addictive and unhealthy habit. The truth remains that withdrawal from nicotine is often uncomfortable. It has many physical and psychological symptoms and some people are not able to handle these feelings. They may also find cravings for nicotine hard to resist. Therefore, so many people who try to quit so often find themselves relapsing. It takes time and will power to break habits and routines built around smoking, and to learn how to replace them with new healthier choices.
Understanding smoking addiction
Just as with any other addictive substance, smoking is an addiction. The drug inside tobacco that people get addicted to is nicotine. Just like with any other addiction, people who are addicted to cigarettes have a compulsive need to smoke and their bodies crave regular doses of nicotine.
Smoking cigarettes leads to organic changes in the brain and nervous system. The brain becomes dependent on the nicotine creating the belief within the smoker that nicotine is essential. When an individual stops smoking for a period of time, it is common to experience withdrawal symptoms, as the brain and body goes through an adjustment period to no longer having nicotine in its system.
Nicotine alters the balance of two chemicals called dopamine and nor-adrenaline in your brain. When nicotine changes the levels of these chemicals, your mood and concentration levels change. When you inhale the nicotine, it immediately rushes to your brain, where it produces feelings of pleasure and allegedly reduces stress and anxiety. Therefore many smokers enjoy the nicotine rush and become dependent on it. The more you smoke, the more your brain becomes used to the nicotine. This means you must smoke more to get the same effect, which is very similar to drug and alcohol abuse/addiction.
Withdrawal symptoms from nicotine include:
Irritability – caused by the body’s craving for nicotine
Fatigue – nicotine is a stimulant, initially quitting smoking will cause fatigue, however over time your body will adjust, and you will have more energy.
Insomnia – Nicotine affects brain wave functioning and may influence sleep patterns. It is not uncommon in the first few days after quitting for the ex-smoker to wake up frequently during the night. Dreaming about smoking is also common.
Increased appetite – after quitting, you may confuse nicotine cravings with hunger pangs. You may also have a better sense of taste as the nerve endings in your mouth and nose re-grow, with the result that you feel like you want to eat more.
Quitting is possible
Freedom from smoking, just as freedom from drug and alcohol addiction, is possible. It takes work, time, patience, and perseverance, but it is possible.
Using the 12-steps to quit smoking
Many of the principles of the 12-steps can be helpful to quit smoking.
AA and other fellowships recommend that each newcomer ask someone to be their sponsor. People who wish to quit smoking may wish to try this approach.
By focusing on an action plan, you can change your mental attitude and emotional connection with cigarettes, by reading, meditating and sharing. As with drug and alcohol recovery, quitting smoking involves a psychic change. This psychic change is deeper than a mental change, and many claims it is a profound spiritual transformation, which takes place by studying the 12-steps and living according to the teachings. The compulsion to drink or smoke may be lifted fairly quickly, but recovery is an on-going transformation to become your personal best.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process