Recovery Connections

John Schwary is CEO of Transitional Living Communities, a 850-bed recovery program he founded in Mesa, Arizona January 9, 1992 when he had a year sober. He's in his 27th year of recovery.

In these posts, he views life mostly through the lenses of recovery. While the blog is factual, he sometimes disguises events and people to protect anonymity.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Powerful Addiction


A recovering alcoholic I've known for many years – a heavy smoker – went to the hospital last week and underwent 12 hours of surgery to replace heart valves. 

He'd originally gone to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing due to the onset of emphysema and COPD.  While dealing with the emphysema, doctors discovered the issues with his heart.

I remember many years ago talking to this man, now in his mid-50s, about the devastating effects of smoking. His reply was that he given up drinking and drugs but he wasn't going to give up the one thing that still gave him pleasure: smoking.

Smoking is something that I still have an obsession about. My mother, my brother, three aunts, two uncles, and several cousins died prematurely from emphysema and COPD – all smoking-related. One cousin died at 43 years old, suffocating from emphysema. And I know that if I hadn't quit over 28 years ago I myself would've succumbed prematurely.

The American Lung Association reports:

"Three decades ago, public outrage killed an automobile model (Ford's Pinto) whose design defects allegedly caused 59 deaths. Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined.

Approximately 440,000 people die from their own smoking each year, and about 50,000 die from second-hand smoke annually.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 22,073 people died of alcohol, 12,113 died of AIDS, 43,664 died of car accidents, 38,396 died of drug use — legal and illegal — 18,573 died of murder and 33,300 died of suicide.

That brings us to a total of 168,119 deaths, far less than the 440,000 that die from smoking annually."

Facts like these don't carry much weight with a nicotine addict. In my case quitting nicotine was far more difficult than quitting heroin – something I'd done more than two dozen times in 40 years. Yet quitting cigarettes saved my life and added quality to my years.

In the recovery community smoking addiction is inverse to that of the general population. 80% of recovering people smoke: approximately 20% of the general population smokes.

I encourage my brothers and sisters in recovery to take the final step to an addiction free life by quitting tobacco.