Can Recovering Addicts Quit Smoking at the Same Time?

By Allison McCabe 12/12/13

Contrary to popular belief, addicts in recovery can try to quit smoking without affecting their attempt to get sober and some might even see an improvement in treatment outcomes.

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When first entering recovery, most addicts and alcoholics are told not to bother trying to give up smoking cigarettes. The prevailing belief is that it’s difficult enough to get sober without the added distraction of having to deal with nicotine cravings. For similar reasons, addicts are also advised against making big life changes in their first years of getting sober.

It turns out, however, that quitting smoking may not be such a bad idea after all, at least for stimulant addicts, according to new research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Substance abuse treatment programs have historically been hesitant to incorporate concurrent smoking cessation therapies with standard drug addiction treatment because of the concern that patients would drop out of treatment entirely,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, NIDA Director. “However, treating their tobacco addiction may not only reduce the negative health consequences associated with smoking, but could also potentially improve substance use disorder treatment outcomes.”

In 2008, twenty-eight percent of people were tobacco users, with 63 percent of smokers being addicts. Of the addicts who enter treatment, more die from tobacco-related causes than from the drug that motivated them to get help. Still, treatment programs generally do not provide help to stop smoking.

The NIDA study treated a group of cocaine and meth addicts in substance abuse treatment with smoking cessation measures such as counseling, bupropion, inhalers, and rewards.The results of the 10 week experiment were promising: many of the smokers remained nicotine free at three and six months post-treatment, while the treatment for the cocaine or meth addiction was unaffected. “These findings, coupled with past research, should reassure clinicians that providing smoking-cessation treatment in conjunction with treatment for other substance use disorders will be beneficial to their patients,” said Dr. Theresa Winhusen, the first author on the study.

Dr. Winhusen’s previous study examined the role of menthol cigarettes in cocaine addiction.

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Allison McCabe is the editor in chief of The Fix. She has written for LA Weekly, Village Voice, Junk: a literary fix, Ramshackle Review, Main Street Journal and others. Follow Allison on Twitter.