Ask an Expert: I'm Quitting Drinking, Should I Quit Smoking Now Too?

By Dr. Richard Juman 08/15/16

Conventional wisdom in recovery circles suggests people in early sobriety shouldn't attempt to stop smoking. Is that good advice?

Ask an Expert: I'm Quitting Drinking, Should I Quit Smoking Now Too?
A death sentence?

I have been in an outpatient treatment program for alcohol and marijuana for the past three months, and I’m doing well with respect to maintaining abstinence. But I’m worried about my cigarette smoking. Since quitting alcohol and pot, my cigarette use has gone through the roof. Everyone here smokes and some people have even said that it would be a bad idea for me to try to give up cigarettes at the same time I’m giving up alcohol and pot. What do you advise?

Dr. Richard Juman: My advice is that there is never a bad time to stop smoking cigarettes. Stopping tobacco use is one of the single most important things that we can do to improve our health and longevity.

There is a long-held belief in some segments of the recovery community that people in early recovery who smoke should not try to quit. The image of 12-step members standing outside a meeting hall smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee from styrofoam cups is an iconic part of recovery history. Yet the fact is that many people do prove able to stop smoking cigarettes at the same time they quit other drugs—for example, those who attend inpatient detox and rehab programs that are smoke-free and are able to subsequently maintain abstinence from all drugs of abuse, including nicotine. In fact, since cigarettes can be a trigger to drink or use other drugs, and vice versa, there is great intuitive support for the idea that it makes sense to try to stop all of these unhealthy behaviors at the same time.

If you do decide to stop smoking cigarettes, I would advise you to get involved in one or more evidence-based programs for smoking cessation. Nine out of ten smokers who try to quit on their own end up returning to smoking, but there are many programs that can improve one's chances of success. These include counseling, prescription medications, nicotine patches and gum, vaping and “quit lines” such 1-800-QUITNOW. There is evidence that suggests that combining more than one of these techniques improves a person’s chances of success.

People who give up smoking live about seven years longer than those who don’t. I hope that this is your time to stop.

Richard Juman is the editor of Professional Voices, a weekly feature on The Fix designed to provide a forum for addiction professionals to discuss critical issues in addiction theory, treatment, policy and research. He is also a former president of the New York State Psychological Association and a longstanding member of its Addiction Division Executive Committee.

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