Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Smoking Cessation in
“Smoking isn’t a bigger problem
for people in recovery than it is for anyone else.”
Fact: Almost 85% of people who are in
recovery from alcohol are smokers, compared with 25% of the general public.
Smokers in alcohol recovery may be more addicted to nicotine than other smokers.
People in alcohol recovery often smoke more than other smokers.
People who have been in treatment for alcohol
problems are more likely to die from tobacco-related diseases than from
alcohol-related problems. These people have a higher risk of heart disease and
cancer than recovering alcoholics who don’t smoke. Cancers of the head and
neck are special problems for people with a history of heavy drinking and
“Quitting smoking will threaten my
Fact: Until recently, we thought that
quitting smoking made it harder to stay sober. We now know that smokers who are
in recovery from alcohol abuse can stop smoking without starting to drink again.
Because smoking and drinking usually go together, smoking can lead to a stronger
craving for alcohol. So quitting smoking during treatment for alcoholism, or
right after treatment, can actually increase your chances of staying sober.
“Alcohol addiction was the biggest
threat to my life and my health, and I’ve quit drinking. Smoking
won’t hurt me that much.”
Fact: Make no mistake about this: Smoking
is an addiction. And it’s as likely to kill you as any other addiction --
maybe even more so. Recovering alcoholics who smoke are more likely to get heart
disease, lung disease and cancers of the head, mouth and throat. They are also
likely to die earlier than people in the general public.
“I’m too addicted to quit
smoking. I tried to quit before and failed.”
Fact: You may very well be more addicted
to nicotine than other smokers, but there are things that can help you quit.
Very few people succeed the first time they try to quit smoking. Part of the
problem may be that you tried to stop smoking on your own. If you couldn’t
quit drinking without the help of others, why expect to quit smoking that way?
Lots of resources can help you be successful: your doctor, friends and family
members, nicotine replacement therapy, Nicotine Anonymous, the American Cancer
Society, the American Lung Association, stop-smoking support groups, etc. All
you have to do is ask for help.
When you stop smoking, withdrawal symptoms like
irritability, nervousness, difficulty concentrating and constipation usually
last no more than 3 to 4 weeks. Behavior therapy, along with nicotine
replacement therapy, can help you handle the withdrawal symptoms. Ask your
doctor what treatment is right for you.
“I’ll fail -- I know I will.
Quitting smoking will be harder for me than quitting drinking was.”
Fact: There’s a good chance that
you felt this way about recovering from alcohol abuse at times. Feeling
powerless and admitting you need help is the first step to kicking your smoking
addiction. You need to approach quitting smoking the same way you approached
quitting drinking -- one step at a time. What gave you the strength and courage
to give up drinking? The same tools, such as treatment, therapy, group support,
spirituality, friends and family, can help you quit smoking if you use them.
“I could never quit. Most of my family
members and friends smoke.”
Fact: Being around smokers can make
quitting harder. But giving up any addiction is hard and requires you to make
your own choice about what’s best for you and your loved ones. Asking
family members and friends not to smoke around you gives them the opportunity to
be supportive. At first it may help to stay away from other smokers. It also
helps to practice what you’ll do when you feel like smoking.
“I have too much stress in my life to
quit right now.”
Fact: Your body is addicted to nicotine,
so it feels better with the drug than without it. Maybe another time would be
better to quit smoking. But remember that you, like all other people, will
always be under some kind of stress. Waiting to be stress-free before you try to
quit smoking may just be an excuse for not facing your nicotine addiction.
“I can’t quit smoking because
I’ll gain weight, and that’s bad for my health, too.”
Fact: Most people gain no more than 5 to
10 pounds, which is much less of a health risk than smoking. Exercising
regularly and eating low-fat foods can help you keep from gaining too much
Tips to Help You Quit Smoking
Before you quit smoking, try the following:
- First, write down what you like about smoking and
what you don’t like about quitting. Then reverse this process. Write down
reasons to quit and reasons not to keep smoking.
- Switch to a brand of cigarettes with a lower
nicotine content while smoking the same number of cigarettes every day.
- Cut out a few of your favorite cigarettes during
- For 3 to 5 days, use a notebook to keep track of
when you smoke each cigarette. Also note what you’re doing and how
you’re feeling when you reach for a cigarette. Look for patterns in your
To cope with craving
and withdrawal when you quit, try the following:
- Ask your doctor about using some form of nicotine
replacement therapy, such as a nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler or
nicotine nasal spray.
- Talk to your doctor about other drug therapies,
such as bupropion (brand name: Zyban), that you might use just for a while to
help reduce your cravings.
- Consider starting an exercise program. Exercise
often helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, and it gives you something to do when
you get a craving.
- Check with your doctor to find out about
deep-breathing, relaxation and imaging techniques that can help you cope with
stress and cravings.
- Avoid doing the things that trigger your cravings
for a cigarette. Look back in your notebook to find out these triggers.
To prevent relapse, try the
- Plan ahead and practice how you’ll handle
difficult situations, such as being around friends and family members who smoke,
managing stressful situations and coping with negative feelings like anger,
sadness and anxiety.
- Look for smoke-free options, such as smoke-free
Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other support groups, like Nicotine Anonymous.
Plan activities where smoking is unlikely or with family members and friends who
don’t smoke. Sit in the nonsmoking sections of restaurants.
- Remember that breaking down and having a
cigarette doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you have
totally relapsed to smoking. Instead, “climb back on the wagon” and