Are Caffeine & Nicotine Okay in AA?

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There’s no question about it — I’m a full-blown coffee addict. If I fail to start my morning with a hot cup of Joe, I find myself grumpy, headache-y, and struggling to sift through some pretty intense brain fog by about 10am. Of course, I am far from alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 80% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis. Fortunately, nicotine was never my jam. I did smoke pretty heavily back in my drinking days, and when I first got sober I would bum a smoke before and after meetings so I could seamlessly converse with the cool kids. There is no question that from a medical standpoint, nicotine is more detrimental to overall health than caffeine. The CDC reports, “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. Nearly 40 million U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes, and 3.08 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. Every day, about 1,600 U.S. youth younger than 18 years smoke their first cigarette. Each year, nearly half a million Americans die prematurely of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Another 16 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Each year, the United States spends more than $225 billion on medical care to treat smoking-related disease in adults.”

If you have recently gotten sober and you have become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or another 12 Step program, you might be wondering whether or not caffeine and nicotine are considered “okay.” Are you still considered abstinent if you down five Red Bulls every day and smoke a pack and a half of Newports? It is important to remember that recovery looks different for everyone. Most AA members drink coffee, and the majority of them also smoke or vape (or did at some point on their personal journeys of recovery). You get to decide what feels the best for you and your sobriety. To learn more, contact 12 Step Illinois today.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant, which is often used in small doses to increase alertness and energy levels. Caffeine is generally harmless when taken in small doses — even those who drink a full pot of coffee a day will generally not suffer serious, long-term side effects. However, caffeine can be dangerous when consumed in exceptionally high doses, and some might have a lower tolerance for caffeine than others. According to the National Library of Medicine, caffeine is, “a bitter substance that occurs naturally in more than 60 plants including:

  • Coffee beans
  • Tea leaves
  • Kola nuts, which are used to flavor soft drink colas
  • Cacao pods, which are used to make chocolate products

There is also synthetic (man-made) caffeine, which is added to some medicines, foods, and drinks. For example, some pain relievers, cold medicines, and over-the-counter medicines for alertness contain synthetic caffeine. So do energy drinks and ‘energy-boosting’ gums and snacks.” Synthetic caffeine is generally more likely to cause adverse effects. It is recommended that certain people stay away from caffeine entirely, including:

  • People who have moderate or severe anxiety disorders and who are prone to panic attacks.
  • Women who are pregnant or nursing (under 200mg/day comes recommended).
  • Adolescents and young adults.
  • People with certain heart conditions and/or high blood pressure.

Is caffeine acceptable for those who are in AA? In short, yes. Nearly every AA meeting across the country offers coffee to those who show up. In fact, having a “coffee commitment” is an important part of service work, and many newcomers will volunteer to make coffee before a specific meeting on a weekly basis, helping them stay accountable and encouraging them to show up regularly. However, just because it is okay to drink coffee, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your relationship with caffeine is serving you.

What Is Your Relationship With Caffeine?

If you drink a cup of coffee in the morning or treat yourself to an oat milk latte before a Saturday morning meeting, you likely have a good relationship with caffeine, and there is no cause for concern whatsoever. If you wake up and drink a 24 ounce energy drink first thing, follow that up with a 5-hour energy shot and several caffeine pills, then down a couple of Monsters on your lunch break, it might be time to re-evaluate your relationship with caffeine. The same is true of nicotine. Some people might smoke a cigarette once or twice a week at the end of a particularly stressful work week. Others might have a vape they use occasionally throughout the day. Because the long-term effects of daily nicotine use can be more severe (even fatal), it is important to consider whether or not quitting is something you want to take on in your sobriety. When is the most appropriate time to quit smoking? It is recommended that a person avoids making any major changes within their first year of recovery. This might include attempting to quit nicotine. Of course, if you are already suffering health effects as a result of your nicotine use, it is recommended you listen to the advice of your primary care physician or any other medical professional.

What Is Nicotine?

The National Cancer Institute defines nicotine as, “An addictive, poisonous chemical found in tobacco. It can also be made in the laboratory. When it enters the body, nicotine causes an increased heart rate and use of oxygen by the heart, and a sense of well-being and relaxation. It is also used as an insecticide.” Nicotine is highly addictive. The CDC reports, “Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body. In 2020, 12.5% of U.S. adults (an estimated 30.8 million people) currently smoked cigarettes: 14.1% of men, 11% of women.” Every day an estimated 1,600 adolescents begin smoking, and many of them go on to become regular nicotine users. If you have been smoking for an extended period of time and you are new to addiction recovery, you might want to consult with your sponsor and/or healthcare professional on how and when to quit. But rest assured, you are still considered sober, even if you use nicotine on a daily basis.

Contact Us Today to Begin Your Recovery Journey

If you or someone you love is suffering from an alcohol use disorder of any type or severity, 12 Step Illinois is available to help. We understand how difficult it can be to come to terms with an alcohol use disorder, and we know that reaching out for help takes an immense amount of courage. Fortunately, as soon as you make the decision to ask for the help you need, we will be available to help guide you through the remainder of the early recovery process. First of all, it is important to determine which treatment options are going to be the most appropriate for your unique case. If you or your loved one is suffering from a moderate or severe alcohol use disorder and any co-occurring issues, entering into a multi-staged treatment program might be the best option. Because the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous when left untreated, medical detoxification could be a necessary first step. In some cases, medical detox should be immediately followed up by a higher level of care, like inpatient rehab or partial hospitalization (PHP). To learn more about treatment options in Illinois, contact us today. In some instances, engagement in a 12 Step program in Illinois can be effective as a standalone treatment option. We encourage you to reach out today for more information on 12 Step meetings in your immediate area. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping you out however we can.

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