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Smoking inhibits recovery from alcohol abuse

Addiction to both tobacco and alcohol places individuals in a double bind. Studies show that people dependent on alcohol are three times more susceptible than those in the general population to be smokers and those dependent on tobacco are four times more likely to be dependent on alcohol. The relationship doesn’t end here though. Smoking can also limit the success of treatment for alcohol abuse.

Based on the findings by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA), alcoholics who smoke had shorter stays in alcohol treatment programs than non-smokers and may have experienced poorer treatment outcomes in comparison to non-smokers.

The study, which appeared in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, included analysis of more than 21,000 adult treatment seekers from 253 community outpatient substance abuse clinics across New York State.

“The data suggest that smoking is associated with difficulties in alcohol treatment,” said Kimberly Walitzer, Ph.D., deputy director and senior research scientist, and study lead. “Tobacco smokers had shorter treatment durations and were less likely to have achieved their alcohol-related goals at discharge relative to their nonsmoking counterparts.

“This should be a major concern for treatment providers, as the majority of people with alcohol disorders are, in fact, smokers,” she explained.

National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) 2001 revealed approximately 46 million adults to have used both alcohol and tobacco in the past year, and approximately 6.2 million adults reported both an AUD and dependence on nicotine. According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than 20 percent of people in the U.S. are categorized as regular smokers. However, a significantly higher percentage of people with alcohol use disorders are smokers.

Many alcoholics smoke, putting them at high risk for tobacco-related complications including multiple cancers, lung disease and heart disease. In fact, statistics suggest that more alcoholics die of tobacco-related illnesses than alcohol-related problems. Furthermore, smoking and alcohol dependency are associated with further challenges such as unemployment, not pursuing education, criminal activity, susceptibility to the development of mental illness and the possibility of abusing another substance.

Women are more severely affected by these associations. Even though less than 15 percent of women smoke in the general community, Walitzer’s data indicated 67 percent of women seeking alcohol treatment to be smokers as well. This was in comparison to 61 percent of men. The study continued to demonstrate that such women had to deal with even more difficult circumstances and poorer alcohol treatment outcomes than men who smoked.

“Previous research indicates that if people can quit smoking when entering alcohol treatment, they may have better alcohol outcomes,” Walitzer said. “However, simultaneous cessation is a task that is very challenging to accomplish.”

The 24/7 Recovery Helpline is committed to providing access to top quality treatment programs to those battling substance abuse. Our priority is always your well-being and sustained recovery. If you or a loved one has made the decision to reclaim your life from addiction, help is just a phone call away.

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