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Are Cigarettes Allowed At Drug Rehab Centers?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

Attending rehab is difficult enough without having to also worry about not being able to smoke cigarettes during treatment. Some individuals rely on tobacco products to help them through the difficult process of recovery. Luckily, there are several rehab facilities across the country that allow patients to smoke during treatment.

Smoking Is Allowed… Sometimes

There is no nationwide ban on smoking at rehab centers, so the rules vary depending on the state, or even the city, in which the rehab center resides. As a result, tobacco smoking is a far more prominent behavior in drug rehabilitation centers than many people realize.

It is important to remember that rules and regulations passed by public health organizations regarding smoking bans are only effective in publicly-funded rehab centers. Private centers are bound only to their own rules, though they have to follow state and federal guidelines.

So if the state outlawed smoking, they would have to follow suit. But if the ruling drug addiction health authority created a statute against smoking, private centers could ignore it. That said, smoking bans are in effect in many public and private centers. But how many?

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Percentage Of Rehab Centers That Ban Smoking

Complete smoking bans are rare in drug rehabilitation centers. One study found that only 1 in 10 centers that responded to the survey (about 60 percent of all U.S. clinics) banned smoking completely from their premises. The other 90 percent of the clinics involved allowed smoking on the premises of the rehabilitation center, with some restrictions.

For example, only 10 percent of all surveyed centers allowed indoor smoking for staff or patients of the facility. This is understandable in a drug rehabilitation center: smoking indoors could disrupt someone’s detoxification effort, cause difficulties during medical treatments, or simply serve as a distraction. When it comes to outdoor smoking, there was a much wider acceptance of tobacco smoking.

About half of the clinics in the survey controlled the location and the times when patients and staff could smoke outdoors. However, the rest allowed outdoor smoking in a much more open environment. It was generally allowed near the facility and whenever the staff or patient had free time. Personal vaporizers or eCigs and are also alternative options that your drug rehab may allow.

This lack of smoking restriction may bother many people, especially anti-smoking advocates. However, for people recovering from a debilitating addiction, smoking tobacco is often a comforting alternative that helps alleviate their tension. While no one would ever argue that tobacco is a healthy habit, it may help some people focus during rehabilitation.

New York’s Experiment With Smoking Bans In Rehab Centers

In 2008, the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services decide to implement a new policy: no smoking on the grounds of any publicly funded rehabilitation center. This policy was designed to decrease patient smoking and help eliminate harmful addictive behaviors that may have contributed to further drug use or relapse.

The study found that client smoking did show a slight decrease of about 7 percent. However, the smoking levels actually increased in methadone programs and attitudes towards anti-tobacco legislation and other kinds of smoking bans were perceived very negatively.

A big part of this plan was to help curb the smoking tendencies that people who suffer from addiction seem to show. The same study cited the fact that tobacco use, recurring addictions, and cancer-related deaths were very high in people who suffered from drug addictions, with use rates often as high as 60 percent.

However, the ban didn’t really have the massive effect legislators were hoping to see. While 41 percent of smokers didn’t smoke during their time in a treatment center, only a small percentage of them stayed tobacco-free after they left their rehabilitation center.

Smoking Bans May Negatively Impact Recovery

Another study actually linked tobacco bans with a higher risk of a person dropping out of treatment entirely. One facility in Ohio implemented a tobacco-free policy for all patients and staff. Before the ban, their success rate was a solid 70 percent. A few months after the ban was put into effect, the percentage dropped to 42 percent.

That’s over a 25 percent decrease in effectiveness. It’s important to consider the fact that the smoking ban may not have been the only cause of the lower program completion rate. Other mitigating circumstances could have contributed. However, it’s telling to note that the average number of days spent in rehab dropped from 61 to 48 days.

The conclusion drawn from these results is complex. On the one hand, the argument could be made that smoking bans could help create a healthier rehab center and stronger health for both staff and patients. However, the negative success rates muddy the waters.

The implication here seems to be that people who smoke are replacing their addiction to harder substances with that of smoking tobacco. Remember: drug use has elements of behavioral repetition. People are often pulled into heavy drug use simply because it becomes a habit or a ritual they feel compelled to perform. And smoking tobacco seems to take the place of that ritual.

Reach Out To Us To Learn More

If you’re worried about going to a rehabilitation center that won’t let you smoke, please contact us at RehabCenter.net to find a center that will. We will do the hard work of talking to centers about their smoking policies and finding one that is open to your needs. And since smoking bans are nowhere near comprehensive in drug rehab centers, it shouldn’t be a problem.

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