Cigarettes and Addiction Recovery

A common joke in the addiction recovery community is that you can always tell where an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting is by the large group of smokers hanging outside the building. Smoking in recovery is a paradox because those who have gotten sober from drugs or alcohol are smoking cigarettes. However, you’ll often find that many of those in sober support groups are cigarette smokers. Why are there so many smokers in addiction recovery circles? How common is it to smoke in these environments? What are the implications? Answering these questions may help to deter you away from smoking cigarettes in recovery.

How Common Is Cigarette Smoking in Recovery Circles?

All 12-step meetings and most treatment facilities are anonymous. Therefore, it is often impossible to do accurate studies to gain statistics concerning smoking in recovery groups and treatment facilities. There are some studies on cigarette smoking in recovery. However, these studies are not recent.

For example, a study was done by Dr. Weinberger of Yeshiva University and Dr. Goodwin of the City University of New York between 2001-2002 and again in 2004-2005. The study found that those who smoked after treatment were more likely to relapse in the future. There were 5,515 participants, some smoking, and some not. While this does not explicitly tell how many of the participants were smokers, it shows how many smokers ended up relapsing. In conclusion, those who smoked after treatment were 1.5 times more likely to relapse than those who quit smoking.

Another study done in 2007 states that people treated for substance use disorders smoke more than the general population. The study also found that based on empirical papers from 1989 to 2005 concerning addiction treatment programs, those in recovery who smoke cigarettes range from 65% to 87.2%. These numbers are high, but data from recent years is not available to show an increase or drop in numbers. However, it is possible to conclude an increase based on the number of AA and other 12-step program members who smoke regularly.

Why Is Cigarette Smoking Common in Recovery Circles?

According to the studies done by Dr. Weinberger and Dr. Goodwin, there is a myth within clinical circles that smoking can help those in early recovery from substance abuse to “achieve early abstinence.” This claim is false, considering their study results found that smoking cigarettes can increase your relapsing likelihood. The myth of cigarette smoking helping to achieve abstinence has created a smoking culture among those in recovery. 

Those who use nicotine may overlook nicotine’s addictive qualities because it does not have immediate side effects like other drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine. Overlooking this has caused prevalence in the smoking community within recovery. Smoking is more socially acceptable, and in some circles, it is seen as common as having a cup of coffee. It is considered a minor addiction because those who smoke cigarettes may not view their life as unmanageable, as they can keep up with daily tasks.

For many in recovery, smoking becomes a substitute for their addiction to help them cope. Many people see smoking as less dangerous and more acceptable, causing a higher likelihood of smoking cigarettes. The act of lighting up a cigarette can satisfy cravings and help fulfill their urge to use. However, this does not come without its dangers.

The Dangers of Smoking Cigarettes in Addiction Recovery

It is common knowledge that cigarettes are dangerous to one’s health. They can have long term side effects that are permanent and irreversible. Smoking can lead to consequences, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Stroke
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Respiratory disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

Not only are smokers more likely to develop the above diseases and ailments, but they can also put those around them at risk. Secondhand smoke can cause harmful effects on those around the smoker, especially children. These damaging effects can include asthma, slowed lung growth and other chronic illnesses.

Dr. Weinberger and Dr. Goodwin found that those who smoke after getting sober are more likely to relapse than those who don’t smoke. Those who smoke often do not realize they are substituting cigarettes for other substances, leading to smoking, causing similar urges and cravings. These consequences of using tobacco as substitution can lead to relapse. 

Stopping Cigarette Smoking in Recovery

It can be a trivial question to ask someone in recovery why they would go through all of that hard work just to smoke cigarettes afterward. For some, cigarettes fulfill that need to consume something in addiction, but ultimately they can lead to negative consequences in the future, including relapse. 

The early side effects may be mild, but the long-term consequences are not worth it. There are a variety of ways to stop smoking, such as:

  • Go cold turkey
  • Use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
  • Alternative therapies
  • Behavioral support

You should also talk to your sponsor or therapist for safe ways to help you stop smoking. Remember to keep your sobriety your top priority and refrain from doing anything that would put your recovery in jeopardy.


At Casa Palmera, we discourage any of our patients from smoking cigarettes. Of course, we especially want our patients to understand the dangers of smoking in recovery. The dangers of cigarette smoking on top of health problems caused by addiction can be complicated and sometimes fatal. Working to stop on your own or with your therapist or sponsor is incredibly crucial to leading a healthy and sober life. Contact us today. We are here to answer any questions and help you stop smoking. 


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.