The Power of Acceptance: Embracing Change for a Brighter Future
Smoking in rehab and recovery has long been widely accepted.Picture a 12-Step meeting – what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Mainstream rehabs suggest that it’s too hard to quit all your vices at once; that allowing smoking is the lesser of all evils, as compared to other substances. But this practice isn’t based on truth, and it’s hurting many people in recovery. Many people start smoking, or start smoking more heavily, in rehab – a practice that can prove more deadly than the substance they intend to recover from.
In reality, the commonly held beliefs that underlie this phenomenon are dated, and new research shows a number of reasons why quitting smoking in rehab actually makes the recovery process easier and more successful.
While we’ve long known that nicotine is extremely addictive, a new study illustrates why and how this is. A team of scientists at UC San Diego School of Medicine found that exposure to nicotine through breastfeeding in the early stages of life produced brain changes that resulted in a higher likelihood of smoking – and other addictive behaviors – later in life.
“When young neurons are exposed to a foreign drug, such as nicotine, they create a molecular ‘memory,’” says the study’s first author Dr. Ben Romoli. Because of our brains’ neuroplasticity, or ability to change according to learned behaviors, this preference essentially becomes wired into our neurons, affecting the way we react when presented with those substances as adults.
Needless to say, smoking cessation deserves at least the same level of attention and treatment as other drug addictions that are perceived to be more powerful. Nicotine addiction is a very powerful addiction.
The ignorance of this problem in mainstream rehabs is concerningly widespread. Inpatient treatment programs that allow smoking are still overwhelmingly popular. Nicotine addiction is ignored. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
Substance abuse patients smoke more and are more vulnerable to the effects of smoking than general populations.
In the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, rehab patients smoke at rates of 80 to 98 percent. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that up to 75 percent of those in treatment for alcohol addiction are also addicted to tobacco.
Many people who were non-smokers before rehab start smoking in treatment. One woman, Sarah H., says of her experience:
I wish that I had been able to find a treatment center that was smoke-free. The last thing I needed was to come home from rehab with a renewed and active addiction to nicotine.
In the past, addiction treatment professionals assumed that quitting smoking during treatment for another addiction would be overwhelming, decreasing their chances of recovery success. But studies now show that the opposite is true: smoking makes it harder to get – and stay – sober.
Triggers are environmental cues that remind us of our alcohol or drug use, prompting us to use again. Since cigarettes are commonly associated with alcohol, smoking can easily trigger the urge to drink. It’s no surprise, then, that research shows cigarette smoking increases likelihood of relapse. The goal of rehab isn’t to replace one crutch with another, but to learn techniques for successfully managing difficult emotions while avoiding triggers.
It’s now common knowledge in the scientific community that alcohol impairs brain function. But as it turns out, how well you recover form cognitive impairment after getting sober depends largely on whether or not you smoke. A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research looked at 133 alcohol-dependent people over the course of their first eight months of sobriety. While those who didn’t smoke fully recovered their previous abilities, those did smoke continued to have trouble with learning, focus, problem-solving and memory.
Researchers think this has to do with the damaging effects of cigarette smoke toxins on brain cells, and recommend treating smoking addiction at the same time as alcohol addiction. Says the study’s author Dr. Timothy Durazzo, “We believe our findings strongly reinforce the growing clinical movement to offer a comprehensive smoking cessation program to individuals seeking treatment for alcohol and substance use disorders.”
People who smoke during the recovery process usually continue to do so long after their initial treatment phase. And in the long run, smoking can prove to be far deadlier than alcohol. According to SAMHSA, tobacco is the number-one noninfectious cause of death and disease, and half of those who smoke will die as a direct result.
“More people with alcoholism die from smoking-related diseases than from alcohol-related diseases,” says the NIAAA. One study of the death certificates of 845 smokers who attended an inpatient addiction treatment program in Minnesota found that over half of the rehab graduates died of complications related to tobacco use – a far greater number than those who died of alcohol and drug-related causes.
By contrast, quitting smoking in rehab actually supports the recovery process. Truly comprehensive addiction treatment recognizes that co-occurring addictions like smoking are related to your primary addiction, and treats all concerns simultaneously. Recovery isn’t about replacing one vice with another, but rather cultivating an integrated approach to living that includes healthy strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. When these changes take place on a deeper level, the urge to self-harm with any kind of substance starts seeming less and less desirable.
Inpatient treatment is an incredible opportunity to work through underlying issues, learn practices that support your physical, mental and spiritual wellness and come out of rehab feeling better than ever before. Leaving cigarettes behind for good is a very important part of that.
Serenity Vista is a smoke-free, private rehab with small groups and highly personalized programs, including smoking cessation. Here in beautiful Boquete, Panama, you’ll be surrounded by birds, flowers, rainbows and the fresh air of our year-round spring-like climate: the perfect setting for personal transformation. Contact us today to learn how we can help you embark on a new life of complete recovery.
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