Smoking During Alcohol Abuse Treatment Doubles Risk Of Relapse

By McCarton Ackerman 10/05/15

Study findings could potentially play a role in how cigarettes are viewed in rehab settings.

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It’s a common sight to see someone smoking cigarettes outside of an AA meeting, but a new study has found that smoking during recovery from an alcohol addiction increases the risk of a relapse.

The findings, published in the latest issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, analyzed data taken from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) on 35,000 adults with past alcohol-use disorder. Participants were tracked and assessed at two different points in time, three years apart, on their substance use, substance use disorders, and all related physical and mental disorders.

Researchers found that daily and even occasional smokers were twice as likely to relapse than someone who didn’t smoke at all. Although they couldn’t identify the exact reason behind this, they suggested that the negative cognitive effects of smoking could carry over to drinking habits.

The findings could potentially play a role in how cigarettes are viewed in rehab settings, since some medical professionals view smoking as the lesser of two evils compared to drinking. Many also believe that asking patients to give up both vices at the same time would be too difficult.

“Quitting smoking will improve anyone’s health,” said study lead author Dr. Renee Goodwin, in a press release. “But our study shows that giving up cigarettes is even more important for adults in recovery from alcohol, since it will help them stay sober.”

Separate research projects have also suggested that drinking and smoking go hand-in-hand. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that alcoholism is 10-14 times more common in smokers than nonsmokers, and that roughly 70% of alcoholics are heavy smokers consuming more than a pack per day.

In addition, a study also published last year in the Alcoholism journal noted that smoking during alcohol abuse treatment can delay the restoring of normal brain function.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.