Smokers are Less Likely to Respond to Alcoholism Treatment

In a recent study by researchers at the University of Buffalo, smokers were found to respond less positively to alcoholism treatment than nonsmokers. With 21,128 participants receiving alcohol abuse treatment in 253 outpatient rehabs in New York (state), 66.4% of nonsmoking males “successfully met the goals of their alcohol treatment” while only 55.9% of smokers met the same goals. The results were similar for women.

Kimberly Walitzer, the deputy director of the Research Institute on Addiction and the study’s lead author said:

“We don’t know enough yet to say it’s a cause-and-effect relationship, but there is definitely a correlation.”

There are many reasons why individuals who are addicted to both alcohol and tobacco might have a hard time quitting alcohol. Those in the study who smoked tended to stay in treatment for shorter periods than their nonsmoking counterparts and the shorter treatment for alcoholism was probably less effective. Smoking can trigger alcohol cravings and vice versa, leading to relapse. Nonsmokers may have better coping skills to deal with particular stressors than smokers. Any, all, or none of these reasons could be at least partially causal to the study results.

Information like this is important to addiction treatment providers, most of which do not at present ask tobacco users to quit upon entering treatment. However, if studies like this are an indication of what’s going on for addicts, it may well be prudent to help those entering treatment, residential or outpatient, to quit smoking along with whatever other substance(s) they may be abusing.

Quitting smoking and drinking at once may prove challenging. Yet there is hope. The Stages of Change model, created by Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, suggests that people can and will make positive changes when they are ready and there are specific interventions that can be done at each “stage” of the addiction recovery process to help prevent relapse. The work isn’t always easy, but it is possible with help and support.