What about Smoking and Recovery from Addiction?

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in our society.   It is responsible for about 419,000 US deaths each year.   Smoking accounts for 1/3 of cancer deaths. It is a major cause of heart disease and cancers of the lungs, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, uterus, cervix, kidney, and bladder.   The average smoker shortens his life by fifteen years!

Nicotine and Addiction to Other Drugs & Alcohol

In 1988 the US Surgeon General reported that nicotine is just as addictive as heroin and cocaine. A “hit” of nicotine reaches the brain in seven seconds, twice as fast as a   syringe of heroin injected into the vein.   Recent studies have shown an irrefutable link between smoking cessation and success in drug treatment.   Some have indicated that alcoholics and drug addicts who also stop smoking are up to eight times more likely to remain clean and sober!   For this reason, practically all major hospital-based treatment facilities are now “smoke free”.

There is an important spiritual principle in all of this.   Paul says, “I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).   Having one habit that maintains “mastery” over me means I don’t have complete victory in my life.   This is a foothold in my life for “the enemy” that makes me more susceptible to other forms of temptation — like using alcohol and drugs again!

Practical Ideas for Recovery Programs

A.   Make your building a “smoke free zone –   Every year   thousands of nonsmokers die from inhaling “passive smoke”.   So, setting up a special smoking area either in the building or outside will avoid risking the health of mission workers, visitors, and clients.

B.   Let the staff show the way – Mission employees must be good examples by not smoking themselves. For those who do smoke,   it might appropriate to pay for whatever help they might need to stop.   Dividends of a “smoke free” staff include a lower rate of absenteeism and lower health-related insurance expenditures.

C.   Make smoking cessation a definite component of your long-term program – Stopping smoking should not be a requirement for entrance into a mission recovery program.   It may be appropriate, though, as a prerequisite for graduation or for moving into a latter phase of the program.   Just like other addictions, smokers need special support from classes, support groups, counseling, and other activities.   A number of recovering addicts have actually told me that quitting alcohol and drugs was easy compared to quitting cigarettes.   There are many good resources available including smoking cessation classes in the community,   literature, and videos from a varitety of health organizations.   It many be possible to arrange for someone from one of them to do regular presentations on the topic for your residents.

D. Recognize the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal  Physiological symptoms include: decreased heart rate, increased blood pressure and brain wave changes.   Those who quit smoking often experience impaired physical coordination and a decreased ability to concentrate. Severe cravings for tobacco, sleep disturbances, irritability, anxiety and gastrointestinal disturbances also may occur.   So, they need a lot of support and encouragement as they work through all this.

F.   Make sure residents are stable in sobriety before trying to quit smokingA mission long-term residential program is a special supportive environment.   This makes it a great place to tackle nicotine addiction.   Still, newly sober people should be reasonably stable in recovery before attempting to quit smoking.   For some, trying to quit toosoon can be stressful enough to cause relapse.   So, I recommend at least six months to a year before attempting it.

Organizations that Provide Resources for People Who Want to Quit Smoking


Local  chapters and affiliates of these groups as well local hospitals are a potential sources of free literature and other educational resources and can point you to smoking cessation classes in your area.


Most statistical information for this article was taken from Smoking or Health   – It’s Your Choice by   Cathy Becker Popescu and J. M. Carey, American Council on Science and Health, New York, NY 1992   (select the link to access the PDF version)


NOTE:   If you have found approaches that have been especially successful, we want to hear about them!   Please contact me.




May/June 1996

Preventing Relapse

In addition to introducing men and women to Christ, helping addicts to maintain sobriety is the primary responsibility of a residential recovery program. Learning to read, completing high school, and gaining other life skills are important. But, if residents cannot remain sober, we have only succeeded in creating smarter Biblically literate drunks. The act of using drugs or alcohol is an end result of a process that began long before. Addicts relapse when it is more painful to stay sober than it is to get “high.”

The immediate benefits of ceasing drug and alcohol use include: improved health, better sleep, return of appetite, and clearer thinking. However, all addicts eventually face a challenge even more difficult than stopping drink ­ing or using drugs coping with life without them! Doing so involves a whole lot more than just “put ­ting the cork in the bottle.” They must learn a com ­pletely new way of life. We often refer to this process as “recovery” – the Bible calls it “sanctifica ­tion” a definite ongoing program of personal growth

Major Causes of Relapse

A. Denial – inability to accept that one is indeed addicted to alcohol and/or drugs and that it is a primary cause of life problems.

B. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome – inability tocope with a set of very stressful, physiologically-based symptoms that occur only after use of alcoholand drugs has stopped

C. Emotional Dysfunction – inability to cope with feelings such as grief, depression, stress, fear, etc., without mind altering substances.

D. Relational Dysfunction – inability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others.

E. Temptation – inability to deal with the issue of sin in one’s life.

F. Dishonesty – the inability to maintain a commit ­ment to rigorous honesty which is the foundation of a life of recovery.


Some Relapse Prevention Strategies

A.  Scriptural Priority – Worship, prayer, Bible study, and Scripture memory all equip the person new to sobriety to overcome temptation and live a life that is pleasing to God.

B. Take Relapse Seriously – It must be clearly understood that use of alcohol or drugs results in immediate dismissal from the program. This could mean simply being asked to leave the facility, demotion to “transient” status or referral to another pro ­gram. After thirty days, the client can be reassessed for re ­entry to the program. The worst possible situation is to give the client the impression that everyone has at least one drunk “in the bank.” We can be assured that they will use it!

C. Addiction Education – Gaining more knowledge about ad ­diction serves two very important functions. It helps the ad ­dict in denial accept his condition. And, this knowledge can be a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance for those struggling with post acute withdrawal symptoms and the emotional difficulties that come with early recovery. Newly sober addicts need to understand that they are suffering from a malady that is shared by others. Education also gives hope that change is possible. Many resources are available:  lending libraries, literature, videos, and local professionals who can speak at the mission. Contact IUGM’s Education Office for information on educational resources for use in a mission setting.

D.   One-on-One Counseling – Every participant in a long-term program needs at least one hour a week with a staff member who understands addiction to help them through the struggles of early recovery. Relapse is a process no one is working a solid program of recovery one day and drunk the next. Therefore, one very important goal of these sessions is to help them to recognize their relapse patterns and learn to interrupt them before the process leads to actual use.

E. Support Groups – Good support groups provide recover ­ing addicts with a safe, non-judgmental setting to share their struggles, thoughts, and feelings without fear of rejection. Hearing the stories of others with similar difficulties and how they overcame them provides valuable encouragement for them to go on in a life of sobriety. Because addiction wreaks havoc upon an individual’s relationships with oth ­ers, support groups are also a great place to begin the diffi ­cult and painful process of re-connecting with other people.

F. Relationships – One especially important area where those in recovery need special help is in learn ­ing how to form healthy relationship and avoid de ­structive ones. Unhealthy relationships, especially of the romantic sort, are one of the biggest causes of re ­lapse. Teaching about godly relationships, even in the sexual area, helps them to avoid getting caught up with people that are not good for them. New re ­lationships with the opposite sex should be put off for the first year of sobriety.


July/August 1996