Using Nicotine While in Early Recovery

in Addiction
Published Jun 30, 2021
nicotine high

The dangers of using smokeless tobacco and smoking cigarettes are well known and well documented. Evidence is emerging that even vaping can be dangerous. Unfortunately, many people struggle to stop using tobacco products. Quitting is hard, and for those detoxing or in early recovery from other substances leaving nicotine behind can be a challenge. However, quitting tobacco products while detoxing can enhance recovery outcomes.

How Tobacco Delivers its Effects

Nicotine is the primary reinforcing component of tobacco, making it the driving force behind tobacco addiction. Cigarette smoking is the most popular method of tobacco use, and the cigarette is a highly efficient drug delivery system. When smoking tobacco via cigarettes, nicotine levels in the bloodstream reach peak levels rapidly then nicotine enters the brain. 

In the case of smokeless tobacco use or cigar and pipe smoking, nicotine is absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth. Nicotine reaches peak blood and brain levels slower than when smoking cigarettes. 

A Look Into Why Nicotine Is Addictive

Many people who smoke or use smokeless tobacco products would like to quit, but nicotine addiction is powerful. Most people who use tobacco and try to stop require several attempts to be successful. According to a 2015 survey, about 70% of current adult smokers in the United States wanted to quit. Although about 55% had attempted to do so in the past year, only seven percent were successful in quitting for 6-12 months.

Nicotine addiction is powerful for several reasons. The nicotine high happens when the adrenal glands are stimulated, causing a release of epinephrine. Nicotine works in the reward pathway of the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure and reward. A temporary surge of endorphins is produced, causing a brief sense of euphoria. Nicotine also increases dopamine levels, which reinforces the behavior of using the drug. Repeated exposure leads to changes in sensitivity to dopamine in other areas of the brain that are involved in learning, self-control, and stress. These changes can result in addiction and withdrawal symptoms upon trying to quit. The unpleasantness of withdrawal symptoms makes it hard to stick to a resolution to stop using tobacco products. 

The way our bodies process nicotine contributes to its addictive potential. Nicotine levels peak in around 10 seconds of inhalation. However, that level drops quickly, along with the feelings of reward. The rapid cycle leads to the desire to continue using to keep feeling pleasurable effects and avoid withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased appetite
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Sleep disturbances


The Need for More Emphasis on Quitting Tobacco Products While in Treatment

Although tobacco use is often co-occurring with other substance use disorders, there is little emphasis placed on treating nicotine dependence while patients are receiving treatment for alcohol, opioid, or other substance use disorders. Mainly due to myths such as it is too difficult to quit using tobacco products while detoxing or in early recovery from other substances, smoking is more benign than other substance use. 

Contrary to the myth, up to 80% of people in treatment for alcohol use disorder are interested in quitting smoking. People who use opiates also showed considerable interest in smoking cessation. One report found that patients in treatment for substance use who were enrolled in smoking cessation programs quit smoking at rates comparable to the general population. However, few smokers quit smoking in treatment focused only on the use of other drugs. 

The lack of emphasis on quitting smoking while in treatment for substance use disorders may be doing patients a disservice and impeding their recovery efforts. Participation in smoking cessation efforts while engaged in other substance use treatment has been associated with a greater likelihood of long-term abstinence from alcohol and other drugs. Some data indirectly suggested that continued smoking may increase the risk of alcohol relapse among alcohol-dependent smokers.

In one opioid detox trial, smoking during detox was associated with increased withdrawal discomfort, more intense cravings, and lower program completion rates than for patients who were not allowed to smoke and nonsmokers.

Quitting Tobacco Products While in Detox

There are good reasons to quit using tobacco products while detoxing from other substances, but what will that process feel like? Patients who make this decision will experience symptoms of withdrawal from both the tobacco product and the other substance(s) they are in treatment for. This process may be uncomfortable, but there are ways to decrease this discomfort so patients can safely and effectively detox from nicotine and other substance(s). 

At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we use The Gallus Method consisting of proprietary, evidence-based protocols to ensure that our patients detox safely and comfortably. With our IV and oral medications, we can quickly treat the symptoms of withdrawal, decreasing the discomfort our patients experience without the fear of cross-addiction. 

Using nicotine while in early recovery may lead to poor outcomes and even increase the chances of future relapse. You may worry about the increased discomfort of withdrawing from nicotine while detoxing from other addictive substances. However, at Gallus Medical Detox Centers, our caring, expert staff are here to guide you through the process while reducing fear and shame. Our use of IV Therapy decreases discomfort levels and rapidly treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Our Denver and Phoenix locations offer a hospital-quality detox in an upscale, comfortable, and home-like environment. You will have an unparalleled experience at Gallus Medical Detox Centers, including safety, comfort, privacy, and respect. Start your recovery journey with us and experience dignity in healing. Call (866) 296-5242 to speak with one of our admissions customer care specialists or fill out the form on our website to find out how we can help you begin your recovery process.