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Quitting Nicotine while in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery

Patients who smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products while enrolled in an addiction treatment program are likely to benefit from quitting. While their nicotine dependency is probably a low priority in the grand scheme of things, using a treatment program for substance use disorder to help put a stop to all co-occurring addictions will not only improve a patient’s health but also their chances of maintaining their sobriety in the future.

Healing the Brain’s Reward Pathway

The “reward pathway” in the brain of a smoker or habitual tobacco user is filled with nicotine receptors that produce dopamine, or feelings of contentment and satisfaction with every dose. Much like opioids attaching to opioid receptors to create a pleasurable sensation, this is how nicotine addiction beings and intensifies with each use. The opioid-like hormones manufactured by the body sometimes referred to as opioid peptides, appear to be stimulated by nicotine, thus affecting various endorphin levels in the brain. At the same time, the dopamine release drives the body’s urge to repeat the behavior. Studies have shown that nicotine addiction can also negatively alter various neurotransmitters that can help rewire and create long-lasting changes in the brain that are essential for the recovery of any addiction.

Limiting Relapse Triggers

One of the most challenging parts of opioid use disorder treatment and recovery is the looming threat of coming across triggers that could potentially lead a patient to relapse. While relapse is regarded as a normal part of the recovery process, the experience can be disheartening for anyone who goes through it, especially for those who suffer from chronic relapse. Cigarettes can serve as a trigger towards behavior compulsions that occur the same way as misusing other substances. Often times, when people attribute the ritual of lighting a cigarette or using chew to times where they also used drugs, so the connection between the two is too great to be ignored.

Strengthen Recovery by Quitting Nicotine

Balancing the brain’s reward pathway and function is a fundamental aspect of opioid use disorder treatment and recovery. That’s why patients should consider using this time to cease their use of nicotine, which tends to stimulate the opioid-like hormones manufactured by the body that can interfere with the rebuilding process. While some patients may feel like they’re taking on too much at once, it’s essential to recognize that chemicals like nicotine and caffeine, while socially accepted in society, are still addictive substances and can trigger certain brain functions in someone who has substance use disorder that can be detrimental to their recovery progress.

Patients enrolled in medication-assisted treatment who also want to address their nicotine addiction can speak with their substance use counselor for advice on different cessation tools that would work best with their medications. With the help of a qualified medical provider, patients will have various options and avenues to consider to tackle their nicotine use while they are also attending to their substance use disorder recovery goals.


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