“Smoking isn’t any more of a problem for people in recovery from alcohol abuse than it is for anyone else.” Fact: Almost 85% of people who are in recovery from alcohol are also smokers, compared with 21% of the general public. Compared to smokers who aren’t in recovery, smokers in recovery from alcohol abuse may be more addicted to nicotine and often smoke more cigarettes.
“Quitting smoking will threaten my sobriety.” Fact: Smokers who are in recovery from alcohol abuse can stop smoking without starting to drink again. Because smoking and drinking often go together, smoking can lead to a stronger craving for alcohol. So quitting smoking during or right after treatment for alcoholism can actually increase your chances of staying sober.
“Alcohol addiction was the biggest threat to my life and my health, and I’ve quit drinking. Smoking won’t hurt me that much.” Fact: Smoking is an addiction. It’s as likely to kill you as any other addiction — maybe even more so. People who have been in treatment for alcohol problems are more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases than from alcohol-related problems. In fact, recovering alcoholics who smoke are more likely to get heart disease, lung disease and cancers of the head, mouth and throat. They are also likely to die earlier than people in the general public.
“I’m too addicted to quit smoking. I tried to quit before and failed.” Fact: You may be more addicted to nicotine than other smokers, but very few people succeed the first time they try to quit smoking. Part of the problem may be that you tried to stop smoking on your own. Lots of resources can help you quit. They include: your doctor, friends and family members, stop-smoking support groups, nicotine replacement therapy, and organizations such as Nicotine Anonymous, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association. All you have to do is ask for help. When you stop smoking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, nervousness, difficulty concentrating and constipation. Counseling, medicine or both may help you handle the withdrawal symptoms. Ask your doctor what treatment is right for you.
“I’ll fail–I know I will. Quitting smoking will be harder for me than quitting drinking was.” Fact: There’s a good chance you felt this way, at times, about recovering from alcohol abuse. Feeling powerless and admitting you need help is the first step to kicking your smoking addiction. You need to approach quitting smoking the same way you approached quitting drinking–one step at a time. What gave you the strength and courage to give up drinking? The same tools such as treatment, therapy, group support, spirituality, and friends and family can help you quit smoking.
“I could never quit. Most of my family members and friends smoke.” Fact: Being around smokers can make quitting harder. But giving up any addiction is hard and requires you to make your own choice about what’s best for you and your loved ones. Asking family members and friends not to smoke around you gives them the opportunity to be supportive. At first it may help to stay away from other smokers.
“I have too much stress in my life to quit right now.” Fact: Your body is addicted to nicotine, so it feels better with the drug than without it. If you are under a lot of stress, maybe another time would be better to quit smoking. But remember that, like all other people, you will always be under some kind of stress. Waiting to be stress-free before you try to quit smoking may just be an excuse to avoid facing your nicotine addiction.
“I can’t quit smoking because I’ll gain weight, and that’s bad for my health too.” Fact: Most people gain no more than 5 to 10 pounds when they quit smoking, which is much less of a health risk than smoking. Exercising regularly and eating low-fat foods can help you avoid gaining too much weight.
Tips to Help You Quit Smoking
Before you quit smoking, try the following:
- Write down what you like about smoking and what you don’t like about quitting. Then, write down what you don’t like about smoking and reasons to quit.
- Cut out a few of your favorite cigarettes during the day.
- For 3 to 5 days, use a notebook to keep track of when you smoke each cigarette. Also note what you’re doing and how you’re feeling when you reach for a cigarette. Look for patterns in your smoking.
To cope with craving and withdrawal when you quit, try the following:
- Ask your doctor about using some form of nicotine replacement therapy, such as a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray or nicotine lozenge.
- Talk to your doctor about other drug therapies, such as bupropion or varenicline, that you might use just for a while to help reduce your cravings.
- Consider starting an exercise program. Exercise often helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, and it gives you something to do when you get a craving.
- Check with your doctor to find out about deep-breathing, relaxation and imaging techniques that can help you cope with stress and cravings.
To prevent relapse, try the following:
- Avoid doing the things that trigger your cravings for a cigarette. Look back in your notebook to find out these triggers. For example, if you always smoke with your morning coffee, try switching to tea instead.
- Plan ahead and practice how you’ll handle difficult situations, such as being around friends and family members who smoke, managing stressful situations and coping with negative feelings like anger, sadness and anxiety.
- Look for smoke-free options, such as smoke-free Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other support groups, like Nicotine Anonymous. Plan activities where smoking is unlikely or with family members and friends who don’t smoke. Sit in the nonsmoking sections of restaurants.
- Remember that breaking down and having a cigarette doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you have totally relapsed to smoking. Instead, “climb back on the wagon” and try again.
- Practical Steps to Smoking Cessation for Recovering Alcoholics by HE McIlvain, Ph.D., JK Bobo, Ph.D., A Leed-Kelly, M.A. and MA Sitorius, M.D.( 04/15/98)
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.