1-561-841-1296 | Most Insurance Accepted

Smoking and Recovery from Addiction: Why They Don’t Go Together

Posted on February 15, 2022

If you’ve been to a recovery fellowship, it’s likely you’ve seen people gather together on a smoke break. Even non-smokers may join just for social time. In light of treatment for alcohol or drug use, cigarettes may seem to be no real threat in comparison. The truth is, smoking can actually interfere with recovery work. Today, let’s take a look at what makes “lighting up” an extra problem for a person with a substance use disorder.

Smoking has long been seen by patients in treatment as a “safer” alternative to drug or alcohol misuse. In reality, smoking and recovery from addiction don’t go hand in hand. In fact, smoking can interfere with a patient’s ability to start and sustain recovery. Some of the impact of smoking tobacco daily comes from its physical threats to the body. It also can remain a “gateway drug” during recovery by leading to cravings for other drugs. The suppression of emotions caused by smoking can disrupt the work a patient needs to do to learn how to respond to their mental health needs in productive ways, too.

Four Warnings about Smoking and Recovery from Addiction

1 Smoking is addictive on its own.

You may tell yourself that cigarettes are okay because they’re not as bad as other substances. You may have convinced yourself that you need this one habit to deal with the work involved to quit drinking or drug use. Unfortunately, any kind of addiction can make becoming and staying sober much more challenging.

The ability to prioritize self-care is important in recovery. Smoking tobacco makes self-care more difficult. It can complicate existing health conditions or create new ones, such as breathing issues, vision trouble, and the risk of lung disease and certain types of cancers.

2. Smoking remains a “gateway drug” during recovery.

A “gateway drug” is one that leads to use of harder, more dangerous substances. Cigarettes are commonly considered one of the main gateway drugs available virtually everywhere. Getting sober while continuing to smoke daily adds a risk of relapsing and a need to return to detox and treatment. It could come from daily nicotine exposure leading to cravings for the stimulants or opiates that a patient previously used before entering treatment.

In treatment, some of the same strategies used to help a patient end drug or alcohol misuse can be applied to the habit of smoking. It may come in the form of finding a behavior to replace the act of lighting up a cigarette. A person in the care of addiction specialists can get help to end this harmful habit at the same time they are working on ways to stay sober.

3. Smoking suppresses emotions.

Any substance that suppresses emotions interferes with a fundamental part of the recovery process. Patients need to be able to have awareness of their emotions and how those emotions affect their thinking and well-being. Cigarettes work in the opposite way by lowering stress and minimizing an emotional response to a situation.

If a patient is unable to address their emotional state authentically, it disrupts the work of a treatment program. A tobacco smoker may be unable to see how their inability to respond to feelings of fear, shame, pain, or anger have contributed to their drug or alcohol use. They may be unaware of how these feelings have been symptoms of potential mental health issues as well.

4. Smoking presents a significant extra risk to people with alcohol use disorders.

Consider this: According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than half of the people who seek treatment for alcohol misuse will die from smoking. Only a third will die from causes related to the alcohol itself.  Even adding deaths from other types of substances is still less than the number of deaths from smoking during treatment.

Your physical well-being is essential during treatment. All the recreation, proper nutrition, hydration, and abstinence from drug use can’t counteract the effects of smoking a pack every day. Heavy smokers who go through more than a pack a day face even more significant health risks, including heart disease, pneumonia, and respiratory cancers.


Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration.

We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1296.