Does Tobacco Use in Treatment Make Sense?

People of all ages go to drug and alcohol treatment for a very specific reason. No matter what their drug of choice, they no longer wish to live the life they have been living and need to give a new type of lifestyle a shot. Yet, for the most part, this demographic engages in smoking. So how does smoking, when it is so detrimental to one’s health, make sense in a recovery setting when you are attempting to turn your life around?

Most treatment centers do not prohibit the use of tobacco, yet some have began to. This can be almost a deal breaker for some, as many addicts believe they need to hold on to ‘something’ if they are about to give up drugs and alcohol. But the reality is, even for those who choose not to smoke in treatment centers that allow it, the dangers of second hand smoke are still alive and well. So what are we to do about it?

The Argument for Tobacco Use in Treatment

 

The bottom line is smoking is not an illegal habit. Though your ability to smoke when and wherever you please may be subjected to laws put into place by cities and communities, you still have a god given right to use tobacco if you choose.

My own experience in sobriety is that smoking is alive and well, for a reason. Smoking is a social activity. Outside of any NA or AA meeting here in Los Angeles, you will find the majority of the drug addicts and alcoholics congregating in the parking lot engaging in tobacco, electronic cigarettes or chew. It fills our time and gives us something to share, filling the ‘hole’ with something other than hard drugs.

For addicts, you probably never stole from your parents, skipped work or lead an unmanageable life revolving around your tobacco use, but, lets be honest, you were not living the healthiest of lifestyles either. Tobacco and nicotine addiction is a real thing but it is nowhere near the spectrum of addiction to drugs and alcohol. It may kill you just the same, but not as quickly.

The Argument Against Tobacco Use in Treatment

 

If you were born anytime after World War II, you have been told for as long as you can remember that smoking is bad for your health. But because the effects are not necessarily immediately life-threatening, many smokers shrug this off for the ability to ‘take the edge off’ their day. But let’s start with some straightforward statistics as to why this isn’t smart:

  • Pharmacologically, nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine
  • Higher relapse rates in smokers
  • Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States
  • Smoking causes stroke and coronary heart disease—the leading causes of death in the United States
  • Studies indicate that more than 80 to 95 percent of the chemically dependent are regular smokers
  • Years of alcohol dependence inflict a great deal of stress on the body, which means that recovering alcoholics are at greater risk for tobacco-related illness

Now, you may have heard some of these statistics before but that doesn’t make them any less true. So how is it that something so dangerous should be allowed in an environment where you are trying to put in the work necessary better your life? Some may think that it’s contradictory for an addiction treatment facility to allow patients to continue to engage in addictive behavior, however, it is important to conquer one thing at a time; similar to taking your recovery one day at a time.

In a perfect world, conceivably, all addiction facilities would be tobacco free, but since we don’t live in a perfect world, the next best thing is to inspire people in treatment to be educated and learn the facts, until the transition can be made to a tobacco-free campus. What are your thoughts?

 

3 Comments
  • Debbie O-A
    Posted at 21:40h, 17 February Reply

    Great topic Derek. For parents such as myself, it hasn’t been easy to accept my son’s smoking habit. But, I decided that his addiction to drugs placed his life in immediate danger and there was little question in my mind that death or jail was in his future. As you so eloquently stated, expecting him to give up all of his addictions at once is unrealistic. He entered NLH a smoker. But even if he didn’t, if he picked up the habit while he was there, trading it in for a drug habit, that wouldn’t bother me at all.

    In time, he may choose to give up smoking, but for now, I’m done hounding him like I used to. He is now approaching almost 3 years sober and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

  • Derek Free
    Posted at 09:44h, 18 February Reply

    Thank you for your feedback Debbie!

    It is good to hear about your continued support for your son. My parent’s do not approve of my smoking either, but I know they feel the same way as you do about the positive direction my life is going despite my habit.

    As I strive to live a healthier and more spiritual-based lifestyle, I know that I will more than likely give up smoking in the future, but that time just hasn’t arrived for me yet. But drugs and alcohol are definitely behind me!

  • Lori C
    Posted at 15:56h, 18 February Reply

    Again, very thoughtful. We don’t like our son’s smoking either. A close relative died of a smoking-related cancer, and the research is clear about the dangers of second-hand smoke for children. At the same time, we recognize that for today, smoking is a lesser evil — a much lesser evil. And we hope that perhaps that addiction can be tackled from a stable, sober place down the road.

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