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Should I Try to Quit Drinking and Smoking at the Same Time?

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An anonymous reader writes in and asks:

“Should I try to quit drinking and smoking cigarettes at the same time?”

I see this dilemma happen quite often at the treatment center that I work at.  I would say that the vast majority of people, probably over 95 percent, believe that their chances for recovery are better if they do not attempt to quit smoking cigarettes while they are trying to achieve recovery.  Clearly, this is “conventional wisdom.”

Now apparently there has been research that shows that those who try to quit smoking in early recovery will achieve better outcomes across the board.  In some cases, some treatment centers are forcing the issue now and mandating a smoke free environment anyway.

So it is clear that some people will find themselves in this predicament and will likely end up quitting smoking even though they had not planned on it.  This has to be a good thing, right?

Well, yes and no.  The thing about the “conventional wisdom” that thinks that smoking is a useful crutch that can help a person in early recovery is this: they are right if they think they are. In other words, all of those addicts and alcoholics out there who are considering recovery believe that if they tried to quit smoking at the same time, it would just be too much.  Furthermore, if you were to threaten these people with the idea that they will be forced to quit smoking if they try to seek help for their addiction, then that will just add to their fear and hesitation.

I know for a fact that there are people who would not attend a treatment center or a drug rehab if they were not allowed to smoke cigarettes while they are there.  I know this because I have spoke to them on the phone when they were making the appointment.  You cannot imagine the level of relief these people feel when they are told they will be able to keep smoking in treatment.  Many of them would not even come otherwise.  It would be a deal breaker for many.

Now it would be easy to take the attitude of “Well, if it is a deal breaker, then it is their loss,” but this is not a very helpful attitude for a population that experiences much higher than average rates of nicotine dependence.  And even if we can “prove” that quitting cigarettes along with our primary addiction produces better outcomes in most cases, these studies do not factor in the idea that forcing the issue creates a huge barrier to entry. Many people will simply not consider treatment any further if they learn that they cannot smoke there.

People are going to quit smoking in their own time.  I’ve seen very, very few people who were ready to tackle it so early in their recovery.  Most wait until they have a few years of clean time under their belt.

And so I would suggest the same for this reader: don’t feel like you should be forced to quit everything all at once.  If doing so overwhelms you or prevents you from taking the right actions in your recovery then you are defeating yourself needlessly.  This is not to say you should give yourself license to smoke forever using the same justification.  If quitting is important to you then set a goal in your recovery and be realistic about it.  For example, give yourself 6 months or a year and then vow to tackle the issue then.

Could you use this as an excuse to justify your behavior?  Sure.  But I would rather see that happen than to have an addict refuse recovery altogether just because they are not ready to give up their crutch of smoking cigarettes.

As they say in the program, first things first. It worked for me.   (I quit smoking after 5+ years of sobriety).

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  • lindokuhle

    i can’

  • Anonymous

    Which is better to quit first. smoking or drinking? please

  • Mike

    Quit drinking first, it is probably doing you more harm than smoking right now, trying to stop both at the same time will prove too difficult.

  • Nick

    Quitting the smokes can cause severe depression or mood swings, anxiety, that can last a few weeks, and this is not going to help someone who is trying to stop drinking at the same time, I see no problem in dealing with the drink first, then dealing with the smoking when you feel strong enough to tackle that problem, do not take on to much at once if it’s only going to result in total failure. It’s like a person going on a diet of only one meal a day, why go extreme and fail a few days later, is it not better to do what you can and then progress from there when the ball is rolling?

  • joe

    I sorta of got lucky here, I really only smoked when I drank and when I quit drinkin I had absoulutely no desire to smoke. Funny thing was when i smoked a cig about a month into my recovery I got a headache and began to shake. I guess my body did not take well to nicotine sober. I saw it as two birds with one stone.