Tuesday, October 22, 2019

One addiction at a time? Not necessarily

Addiction and Recovery

By Bob Gaydos
      Once upon a time, not that long ago, you used to be able to find an AA meeting by looking for a church with a cluster of people standing outside and smoking. That’s still possible, but the clusters have grown smaller. More significantly, as people in recovery joined much of the rest of society in quitting smoking, the air in the meeting rooms cleared up and ash trays disappeared from the tables.
      But it wasn’t easy. Many people in recovery say snuffing the cigarettes was much harder than putting down the drink or the drug. Until recently, that belief, supported by research, meant recovery programs focused solely on the alcohol addiction and left the nicotine addiction to be addressed at a later time, if the person so desired. It was too hard to do both at the same time, the thinking went, and the primary goal was to address the substance abuse.
      This, even though statistics showed that: 1. more than 80 percent of clients in rehab were smokers; 2. people with addictions to alcohol (or other drugs) were significantly more likely to be smokers than those without an alcohol abuse disorder (17 percent of adults); and 3. people who have been treated for alcohol problems were more likely to die of health issues related to tobacco than to alcohol, since they have a higher risk of heart disease and cancer than non-smokers. Also, non-smokers in recovery live longer than smokers in recovery.
      Time and research have changed the treat-one-addiction-at-a-time philosophy, at least to the extent that more rehabs are now offering stop-smoking programs as well as traditional alcohol/drugs programs. This may have something to do with the fact that surveys have shown that a sizable majority of smokers in treatment for alcohol or drug addiction say they also want to quit smoking and that they think it is better to do so within six months of stopping drinking or using drugs rather than waiting until later.
      A primary motivator for quitting smoking early in recovery from alcohol abuse is the strong connection between smoking and drinking. For many alcoholics, the two activities went hand-in-hand. In direct contradiction to previous thinking which said quitting smoking would make it harder for people new to recovery to stay sober, some treatment specialists today say that continuing to smoke while not drinking can be a strong trigger for relapse. Nicotine stimulates the brain’s pleasure receptors, feeding the “need” for more.
      No one says it’s easy to quit smoking and drinking at the same time, but it’s often suggested to use the motivation and strategies used to stop drinking to also stop smoking. That means, for certain, not trying to do it on one’s own, but rather, being open to a variety of help from behavioral therapists to nicotine replacement therapies, to encouragement from friends and family, to online and in-person support from groups such as Nicotine Anonymous (https://www.nicotine-anonymous.org) and the American Lung Association (https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking).
       Ideally, recovery from alcohol or other drugs means adopting a healthier lifestyle including exercise, proper nutrition and emotionally or spiritually rewarding behaviors. Smoking doesn’t qualify.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com