Smoking is a grave addiction and one that is higher in members of Alcoholics Anonymous than the general public. If AA began today, would it be acceptable?
When AA was founded in 1935, very little was known about the harmful side effects of cigarettes. While a few doctors had begun talking about the link between cigarettes and lung cancer, most of the general population looked at cigarettes as a harmless habit. And from its inception, AA has been associated with having a lot of smokers. Smoking was often allowed inside meetings, and while that’s not the case today, you can usually locate a meeting by following the cloud of smoke that leads to the front door.
According to recent studies conducted by the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism, use among AA members is higher than that of the general population. And since 1935, we have learned a lot about smoking and the dangers associated. In fact, according to the same study, the leading causes of death are related to the health consequences of smoking.
The cornerstone of AA is giving up substances and behaviors that are killing us: physically, emotionally and spiritually. So the question is: if we knew then what we know now, would smoking be allowed in AA?
First of all, I want to preface this by saying I’m not judging anyone who smokes or implying in any way that a smoker has questionable sobriety. I smoked a pack a day for ten years, 4 of which were in sobriety. But it is an interesting thing to think about: there is no denying the negative effects of smoking on our health. Eventually, smoking will cause our health to deteriorate and potentially kill us.
In many ways, cigarettes are like any other addictive substance. We are powerless, and our lives become unmanageable. Maybe not as quickly, dramatically or obviously as they do with other substances, but ask anyone who is in the final stages of lung cancer and I’m sure they would agree.
Alcohol, opiates and other substances that typically get us to the rooms of AA are loud. They are in your face. They take us to a place where our lives are so out of control that we can no longer deny that there is a problem. But smoking is more insidious. We know that smoking is bad for us, but since the negative consequences aren’t immediate, it’s easier to ignore.
If we had known everything we know about cigarettes and the effect it has on health back in 1935 when Bill and Dr. Bob founded this program, I don’t know that smoking would have been so widely accepted in AA. Maybe the time has come for us to open up a dialogue about how to help recovering alcoholics recover from ALL addictions, including smoking. Or maybe we just have to accept smoking as part of our culture that has nothing to do with sobriety.
What do you think?