The rates of smoking cigarettes among recovering alcoholics is three times that of the national average and research indicates that alcoholics are at greater risk for the negative health effects of smoking than other smokers.
An estimated 21% of the general population smoke cigarettes, but among chemically dependent people, the rate jumps to 80% to 95%. Researchers agree that the rate of smoking among recovering alcoholics is more that triple that of the general population.
Greater Health Risks for Alcoholics
Research also shows that because of the damage done to the body by years of heavy drinking, recovering alcoholics who smoke are at a much greater risk for developing health problems related to smoking -- particularly cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Consequently, the death rate for alcoholics following treatment is 48.1% within 20 years, compared with only 18.5% for the general population. More than half of those deaths are attributed to smoking (50.9%) compared with 34.1% for alcohol.
The Myth of Threatening Sobriety
One reason few recovering alcoholics attempt to quit smoking is the belief that the stress of quitting smoking could jeopardize their sobriety. Few treatment centers require their patients to stop drinking and smoking at the same time, mainly because many of the people who work in the treatment industry are smokers themselves. Members of recovery groups are warned by other members to "take one addiction at a time," further perpetuating the myth.
Scientific research, however, tells a different story. Several studies have found that quitting alcohol and cigarettes at the same time actually enhances the chances of maintaining sobriety. The reason, research shows, is because nicotine can increase the craving for alcohol, especially for those who always drank and smoked at the same time.
Most Alcoholics Have Tried to Quit Smoking
Most recovering alcoholics know they need to quit smoking and want to quit. A survey of people in treatment for alcohol dependence found that more than 50% said they wanted to quit and two-thirds of them had actually tried to quit at least once.
Typically, the main reason recovering alcoholics fail to quit smoking is because they try to do it on their own. Rather than using the same tools they used to quit drinking -- medical treatment, professional counseling or support group participation -- they try to quit smoking without assistance and often fail.
Reasons to Quit Smoking
According to Terry Martin, the About.com Smoking Cessation Guide, the vast majority of people who smoke fervently wish they did not. Quitting is not easy, no doubt about it. But it begins with having a will to quit. Martin provides lists of the benefits of quitting.
Preparing Yourself to Quit
Experts agree that the key to successfully quitting is getting yourself prepared to quit psychologically -- understanding the difficulties and preparing yourself to face them. Martin gives several tips on how to get ready to quit.
Get Help for Smoking Cessation
The good news about quitting smoking is that you don't have to do it alone. There are quit smoking aids available to help and a world of support out there to encourage you. Terry Martin's Smoking Cessation forum is one of the most active and helpful on the Internet.the healing process begin within the first 20 minutes of putting down that last cigarette.
McIlvain HE, et al "Practical steps to smoking cessation for recovering alcoholics." American Family Physician. Oct. 1998.
Goldsmith RJ, et al "Towards a broader view of recovery." Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment March 1993.