People often wonder if it is really possible to stop drinking and smoking. Addictions, both to nicotine and alcohol, are a challenge. Nothing is as motivating and encouraging as hearing the story of someone who successfully ended these two addictions on their own.
Many people who have recovered have learned that the principles that will help you recover from one addiction can also be very helpful in recovering from another.
While this is not at all surprising, we rarely hear stories about how well this works. Let’s look at recovery from drinking and smoking, some of the similarities and differences, and tell the story of a woman who has been successful with both.
Awareness and action
If we look at the process of recovery from alcohol and nicotine addiction, from consciousness to long-term recovery, we will look at the example of a woman named Maggie. At the time of her story, she was sober for 22 years and smoke free for one year. In addition to the steps of recovery, the lessons we learn from recovery are invaluable.
People become aware and then want to approach their problems in different ways. Maggie’s personal journey to recovery from an alcohol use disorder began when she joined Alcoholics Anonymous. In his book Anonymous alcoholics, one of the co-founders, Bill, describes his drinking history and history.
When Maggie heard Bill’s story, she immediately identified with his feelings. She had experienced the same agony, remorse, helplessness and despair. People with alcohol use disorder have different experiences, but they have a lot in common, as shown here.
Similarities help people realize that they are not alone but part of a community of people who are in recovery.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not study the nature or the physical and mental effects of alcohol. Rather, the program focuses on living by a set of spiritual principles (the 12 steps) that guide people in recovery to lives that are happy and useful.
Like many people with an alcohol use disorder discovered by Alcoholics Anonymous, Maggie entered their first meeting with a complete willingness to do whatever it took to stop drinking. And like many others, Maggie felt an almost instant and complete release from her obsession with alcohol. But liberation is not a cure. Recovery from alcohol use disorder is a lifelong, ongoing process, but the compulsion is often removed with this type of support.
Attending an anonymous alcoholics meeting, no matter how dramatic the initial impact, is not a one-off event.
Freedom from alcohol depends on a commitment to recovery. This can include joining a support group like A.A., daily prayer (to your higher power, whatever that is), meditation, and other strategies to help you stay engaged and motivated.
Adhering to the principles set out in Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is essential to lasting recovery. Often times, recovery is also sponsored by newbies and your recovery is shared with others.
Recovery does not happen overnight. Despite Maggie’s release from the compulsion to drink, she experienced denial for some time; a rejection that she later understood to be rooted in fear. At the meetings, people hear a lot of stories. Some people feel denied hearing about others breaking up their relationship or having problems with the law on drinking.
Not everyone with an alcohol use disorder will face every consequence, but that doesn’t mean their alcohol use isn’t a problem.
At one meeting, Maggie overheard another woman say that she had molested her children. She said to herself, “I never did that,” ignoring the fact that she had no children.
For many people, recovery is a time when they learn that alcohol abuse has done far worse harm than they thought. Since Maggie consumed alcohol privately, her drinking had no significant effect on her public behavior. But the damage to her thinking, her mind, and her personal relationships was deep.
Recovery from alcohol addiction is a lifelong process.
As Maggie noted, she was an active A.A. Membership: Whenever a person returned to the program after a “slip”, the story was the same. People believe they can stop going to meetings. Or they neglect the spiritual program. Or they get a little cocky thinking they can only have one drink. Someone recovering from an alcohol use disorder knows that one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.
As with alcohol addiction, after several attempts to quit smoking, most people learn that quitting by willpower alone is often unsuccessful. Repeated relapses are common and can lead a person to believe that they are doomed to smoke.
Just as the first step with Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that you are powerless on your own, those who recognize that willpower alone is not enough to quit smoking are often more successful.
But there are many tools beyond willpower that can help.
Some people find it helpful to enlist the support of others. Maggie joined a support forum and found that she immediately identified with others who faced her struggle to quit. Online resources are available for those who wish to have the opportunity to quit in the midst of a community of people who are also trying to give up the habit.
Quitting is possible
Freedom from smoking is possible. One of the first steps for many people is overcoming the fear of quitting. Even if you haven’t quit, you have likely tried cutting down on something, or at least tried waiting a couple of hours before running to the store to buy more cigarettes. The stress from these experiences can increase your anxiety. But recovery is possible. It takes work, time, patience and persistence, but it is possible.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency (SAMHSA) helpline at 1-800-662-4357 Information about support and treatment facilities in your area.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.
Using A.A. stop smoking
Many of the principles used by Alcoholics Anonymous can also help with smoking cessation.
A.A. recommends every newcomer to ask someone to be their sponsor. People looking to quit smoking may want to try this approach, and that’s exactly what Maggie did. She found a smoking cessation mentor online to help her figure out what to do in order to quit for good.
Another piece of advice from A.A. is to “get out of the compassion pot and join the program”. Maggie found this perspective helpful in giving up her smoking habit as well.
By focusing on a plan of action – like reading, meditating, and sharing – you can change your mental outlook and emotional connection with cigarettes.
As with alcohol recovery, smoking cessation involves a psychological change..This psychological change is deeper than a mental change, and many claim it is a profound spiritual transformation that takes place by studying the 12 Steps and living according to the teachings. The compulsion to drink or smoke can be removed fairly quickly, but recovery is an ongoing transformation to be your personal best.
About six months after quitting smoking, Maggie realized that the psychological change necessary for recovery from alcohol use disorders must also permeate her nicotine addiction if she is to achieve freedom and lasting peace.
It takes time for knowledge of nicotine addiction to transition from head knowledge to understanding. Maggie found that, over time, the freedom she had gained through sobriety became hers in terms of quitting smoking as well.
Alcohol withdrawal can be difficult and dangerous. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are both physical and psychological and can include sweating, tremors (which can be violent), and terrifying hallucinations (often visual, think: insects are crawling on your skin)...
Alcohol withdrawal can be life threatening without medical supervision and intervention...
Maggie agrees that her alcohol withdrawal has resulted in indescribable physical and mental torture. She described it as a chemical hand grenade that had explosive effects on all of the neurotransmitters in her brain.
In Maggie’s case, the most serious withdrawal symptoms lasted a few days. When she was able to eat and drink fluids again, her strength returned. Exercise can help if people feel better in a few weeks. However, it can take a few weeks for sleep to return to normal.
However, it is important to remember that alcohol abuse can have serious and permanent consequences. Long-term alcohol consumption is also linked to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is a preventable cause of permanent brain damage.
Withdrawal from nicotine is often less physically dramatic, but it can be accompanied by intense symptoms of anxiety and strong mental or emotional smoke pressure..According to Maggie, when nicotine had affected fewer neurotransmitters in her brain than alcohol, it had still left deep, indelible changes.
The first week of quitting smoking is the toughest, but even if you put all your efforts into becoming smoke-free, you can struggle with food cravings for many weeks...
People who have successfully given up the habit often speak of the “nasty three” of quitting. These include:
- 3 days: The worst period of physical withdrawal.
- Three weeks: The time when physical withdrawal subsides and psychological withdrawal takes over.
- Three months: Sometimes referred to as “the Blahs”, 3 months after the cancellation date some of the novelty of canceling wears off, and some people wonder, “Is that all there is?” This is a common time for a relapse.
Maggie found that the need she was experiencing felt more like commands at times, and again she felt the impotence that willpower is not enough. But she could use her willpower in other ways. She used her willpower to use smoking cessation tools and she used her willpower not to buy a final pack of cigarettes.
It can be helpful to be aware of your triggers, the factors associated with your strongest desires. It was evening for Maggie (twilight triggers), but there will be other triggers for others.
Nicotine vs. Alcohol recovery
Recovery is challenging, be it from nicotine or alcohol, but Maggie’s story reveals some key differences. Differences that can be helpful in understanding people recovering from alcohol use disorder and trying to give up nicotine.
Nicotine addiction is often within reach. Maggie, for example, found that after her first A.A. Meeting, nothing, even the death of her husband, caused her to start drinking again. In contrast, she found that everything was a trigger for smoking; good times, hard times, and easy, ordinary times included.
Quitting smoking after you’ve stopped drinking can be a challenge. Addictive thinking can whisper that you are entitled to at least one bad habit.
In addition, circumstances that cause a person to quit drinking are often legal or relational, less common with smoking. For at least a period of time, a person can be convinced that if he eats a healthy diet, he will not harm his body. Sometimes it is the slight breathlessness or an excruciating cough that is a blessing as it causes concern.
Maggie found that she was clinging to the testimony of those who were smoke-free throughout their first year of non-smokers. Over time, their desires softened and diminished to periodic urges and then fleeting thoughts. While on the day they joined A.A. came to feel free from the urge to drink, it took a full year of hard work for her to experience freedom from nicotine addiction. She found the most important thing was not to entertain the smoking thoughts she was experiencing.
As for the difference between alcohol and nicotine recovery for Maggie, she believes that nicotine conditioned her brain far more than alcohol. She believes that she needs to be more vigilant about her smoking cessation than about her alcohol cessation. Perhaps this is why some smoking cessation forums invite members to add “wings” to their signature after staying smoke-free for five years.
Smoking cessation and alcohol use disorder
If you are recovering from an alcohol use disorder and still smoke, don’t be afraid. You may think that conquering two dependencies is more than additive, but it is not.
A 2006 study found that people with a history of alcohol use disorder are just as likely to quit smoking as those who have not had an alcohol use disorder and are sometimes able to quit More light.
Vigilance and gratitude
The date on which a person’s last drink or cigarette is marked marks the end of years of destructive behaviors and the beginning of an ongoing journey of recovery.
While people are free from addiction and abuse, long-term recovery is an ongoing process.
It’s not okay to have a drink or a cigarette as it can lead to a return of food cravings and a pattern of substance abuse.
While sober for 22 years, Maggie found that her escape from nicotine addiction was a fragile freedom. Still, she believes that if she remains humble, maintains a peaceful vigilance, and tries to help others who wish to recover from nicotine addiction, she will remain a non-smoker.
If I wondered what she wanted, others would know that Maggie was saying, “Although I have worked hard to achieve freedom, I feel that I am a miracle of God’s grace to me through the work of them who established places of recovery like Alcoholics Anonymous and Smoking Cessation. I am a miracle in the ongoing process of a life that is joyful, free, and full of gratitude. ”
A word from Verywell
This history of recovery from alcohol and smoking addiction shows how a similar approach can work for both. The Alcoholics Anonymous Principles and Twelve Steps may be helpful for those who want to quit smoking and stay sober. However, there are also some differences.
Smoking and alcohol addiction often go hand in hand, but it’s comforting that people with a history of alcohol use disorder have no greater difficulty quitting smoking than those who don’t. Just as Maggie found that the tools she learned in Alcoholics Anonymous helped her quit smoking, studies suggest that people recovering from an alcohol use disorder may need less intervention to make the smoking habit successful to give up...