Nicotine and Addiction Recovery: Does It Help or Hinder?

Using nicotine during addiction recovery

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that has made its way into approximately 50 million people’s lives. The United States has come a long way in reducing numbers of nicotine use, but it continues to remain a prevalent issue facing Americans today – and for those already recovering from another addiction – such as with alcohol or illicit drugs – nicotine appears to cause little concern despite its effects. A common reaction from those in recovery is that they’re already working on quitting one dangerous addiction – why should nicotine take top priority? Christy Parque, president and CEO of the Coalition for Behavioral Health in New York City, told Tonic, a division of Vice Magazine,

“There is benefit to focusing on the most immediate crisis, and you want to keep [those in recovery] in the treatment process…However, the approach of our providers is to focus holistically on the patient…”

For those who are already working towards recovering from alcoholism, heroin addiction, opioid dependence and others, the question remains:

Should a person try to quit nicotine habits while in recovery?

Nicotine Use and Addiction Recovery

Last year, Very Well Mind highlighted the truth behind quitting nicotine in treatment: it’s never too late to quit smoking, and there’s never “too much damage” that’s been done to the point where the body can’t recover at least somewhat. It may sound overwhelming to cut out nicotine after a person’s already decided to cease what’s perceived as the “more dangerous addiction”, but in many cases, it’s merely society’s perception that nicotine isn’t that harmful that makes it easier to continue pursuing this addiction, even while in recovery.

Nicotine tends to serve as a quick behavioral reaction to stress and other unpleasant feelings – so it would make sense that while a person is building healthier coping mechanisms, they’d rely a bit more on the benefits of tools learned in recovery rather than pursue an addiction (whether or mild or severe) alongside restoration. Of course, the road to healing from both nicotine dependency and another form of addiction isn’t always going to be easy – however, it’s well worth the effort.

Benefits of Quitting Nicotine in Recovery

Nicotine affects the body in many ways; Medical News Today lists several serious implications such as:

  • Increased risk of harmful blood clotting
  • Plaque which forms on the artery wall
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Problems with brain development
  • Increased levels of insulin – which could contribute to diabetes
  • And more

Of course, something is always better than nothing – so while a person may want to continue smoking while pursuing recovery for another addiction, it’s still great that they’re seeking treatment – however, nicotine can still carry some pretty heavy impacts for addiction recovery as well.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that almost 1 in 4 (or 25%) of adults have some form of mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD) – and these individuals consume 40% of all cigarettes smoked by adults. Outlooks aren’t good for those who do smoke cigarettes: individuals with mental illness or SUDs who smoke are likely to die 5 years earlier than people without disorders. When it comes to recovery specifically, studies show that smokers who quit during treatment have a 25% increased likelihood of maintaining long-term abstinence from alcohol and other drugs – which means that risks of relapse drop significantly if a person decides to pursue holistic recovery (including quitting cigarette use).

Treating Nicotine Dependence in Addiction Recovery

There are many forms of treatment that can be used for both nicotine addiction and other addictions simultaneously. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that the following behavioral therapies are most beneficial:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – a highly effective, proven method to help people learn more about negative thoughts and how they’re linked to behavior. Through CBT, clients can develop hands-on tools for identifying negative thoughts and pursuing more positive, productive thoughts instead. CBT typically involves a lot of “homework”, which the client can work on in-between sessions.

Motivational interviewing – individuals who are more skeptical about the decision to quit smoking make take on motivational interviewing – which is designed to place the decision-making on the client and to serve as a safe space for them to explore potential costs and benefits of moving forward in recovery.

Mindfulness – a holistic approach, mindfulness aims to teach individuals to tune into the present moment; through this, tendencies to rely on substances such as alcohol, tobacco or other drugs become less intense and a greater capacity for dealing with uncomfortable emotions is developed.

Technology support – there are many apps and social media sites that promote social support for the cessation of nicotine addiction; some individuals may wish to interact with others online alongside those in their treatment program to build their support network.

Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.