By Jim Gogek
It’s not alcohol. It’s not cocaine. It’s not heroin or opiate painkillers. It’s the most common and deadly drug, which a majority of 12-steppers still use with impunity, even though it’s destroying their lives. It’s tobacco.
Alcoholics are more likely to die from tobacco than from alcohol.
In a December 2012 article in the magazine Addiction Professional, David Macmaster, co-founder and managing consultant for the Wisconsin Nicotine Treatment Integration Project, projected that 724,153 worldwide members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous – who are alive today — will die prematurely from tobacco, including 499,410 in the United States and Canada. He developed these figures by taking the estimated AA and NA membership, times the percent using tobacco, times the 50 percent mortality rate for tobacco users.
The rate of smoking among alcoholics is three times higher than the general public, and that’s true whether the alcoholic is still practicing or in recovery. Tobacco rates for drug addiction are estimated to be about the same.
Macmaster rightfully takes AA and NA members to task for doing nothing to stop this carnage. If a half-million members of any other organization in North America were going to die from a preventable cause, you can bet that would be a major issue for the organization to address. Even though Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith were tobacco addicts and likely died as a result, AA, per its 12 traditions, will not take a stand on tobacco, deeming it an outside issue.
Macmaster suggests that AA groups use the group conscience to make tobacco an inside issue. Another option would be for individual members to make tobacco use part of the personal inventory process in steps 4, 5 and 10 of the 12 steps. The personal inventory is a “searching and fearless” effort to identify and admit “the exact nature of your wrongs.” If the alcoholic is more likely to die from smoking than alcohol, what can be more wrong than the self-destruction of tobacco addiction?
Other pillars of AA and NA are service work and clearing up the wreckage of your past, both of which are intended to stop self-centeredness, which AA literature calls “the root of our troubles.” What is more self-centered than tobacco addiction? Smoking takes an average of 14 years off your life, with some estimates as high as 25 years. That’s a lot of lost years that the recovering alcoholic could have spent helping others. And while AA literature exhorts the recovering alcoholic to “clear away the wreckage of your past,” the smoking alcoholic is creating wreckage of the future, especially for his or her family members who must bear the emotional and financial burden of early sickness and death from cancer, heart disease and lung disease.
While AA maintains its 1935 attitude toward smoking, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states: “…Evidence suggests that combining (alcohol and tobacco) treatments might be the most effective way to address concurrent addictions.” More and more treatment centers are now pushing tobacco cessation and even going entirely smoke-free. It’s time that the world’s leading alcohol and drug self-help programs – AA and NA – face up to the scourge of alcoholics and addicts.