Quitting Smoking Leads To Better Sobriety Outcomes For Teens In Treatment

By Kelly Burch 12/01/16
New findings suggest it's time for addiction treatment programs to make smoking cessation a priority.
Quitting Smoking Leads To Better Sobriety Outcomes For Teens In Treatment

Quitting smoking while in a residential treatment program for addiction can lead to better outcomes for teens who are trying to get sober, a new study has found. 

The study, conducted by a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher and published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that teens who quit smoking while in treatment had lower cravings than those who continued smoking during the program. Both groups had similar numbers for treatment duration, 12-step participation and functioning. 

"Our results suggest that quitting smoking is associated with lowered drug and alcohol cravings," said the study's lead author, Maria E. Pagano, PhD, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at Case Western. "Clearly, this is a positive finding for treating drug and alcohol addiction.”

Pagano said the study contradicts the widely-held belief that quitting smoking shouldn’t be a priority during addiction treatment.

“Smoking cessation activities are not typically included in drug and alcohol programs because of worries about overload,” she said. “The concern is that drug and alcohol addiction is a challenging enough battle by itself, let alone trying to quit smoking at the same time. Our results suggest that this outlook may need to be modified.”

The study followed 195 teens aged 14 to 18, two-thirds of whom were smokers before coming to treatment. All were in a two-month residential treatment program that included therapeutic activities and 12-step meetings in the local community. Smoking was banned on site, so half of the attendees quit smoking while the other half continued to indulge when they left the grounds of the treatment center for 12-step meetings or other events. 

Researchers speculated that socializing at 12-step meetings account for some of the success rates for teens who quit smoking. Rather than smoking before and after meetings, these teens were more likely to greet newcomers, set up the meetings, or otherwise help the community. Being of service has been associated with lower risk or relapse and lower likelihood of spending time in jail in the year following treatment. 

"Our study suggests that increasing these types of activities for all clients … may result in better recovery rates from addiction, not to mention the enormous personal health and societal benefits of reducing smoking in teens,” Pagano said. 

Following the study, Pagano hopes to see more smoking cessation efforts integrated into treatment programs. 

"To ease potential suffering caused by nicotine withdrawal, nicotine patches should be routinely offered to all teen smokers in residential treatment,” she said. “This may increase the number of youths who quit smoking during treatment and get discharged with lower cravings for alcohol and drugs, ultimately improving treatment outcomes and lowering overall health care costs." 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.