Understanding the drug treatment community's ambivalence towards tobacco use and treatment.

Document Type

Article, Non peer-reviewed

Publication Date



BACKGROUND: Most clients in drug treatment smoke cigarettes, but few facilities provide treatment for tobacco dependence. We identify subjective experiences and social processes that may influence facility adoption of tobacco treatment policies and practices. METHODS: Cross-sectional, semi-structured interviews were conducted with staff, directors and clients of 8 drug treatment facilities in the Midwestern U.S. We assembled a purposive sample stratified by ownership, methadone provision, and treatment service provision. We conducted in-person interviews with clinic directors and 54 staff and clients and employed a mixed-method analytic approach. RESULTS: Facility policies and philosophy related to tobacco differed from those regarding alcohol and other drugs. Participants suggested facilities may not treat tobacco dependence because it does not create legal and social problems that force clients into treatment. Tobacco dependence treatment falls outside of a core function of drug treatment, which is to help clients fix legal problems caused by their drug use. Moreover, proactively treating clients for tobacco dependence creates strong ambivalence amongst staff and directors. On the one hand, staff smoking would violate core principles of drug treatment (i.e., the importance of staff abstinence from drugs of abuse); on the other, staff who smoke feel their personal rights and jobs are threatened. This situation creates strong incentives for staff to resist adoption of tobacco dependence treatment. Unlike other studies, the fear of jeopardising clients' abstinence from other drugs did not emerge as a downside for treating tobacco dependence. CONCLUSIONS: International and national trends will probably increase the pressure to treat tobacco dependence during drug treatment. However, the U.S. context of drug treatment, as a patchwork, under-funded industry with high employee turnover, may undermine true adoption. At present, many facility staff resolve their ambivalence by reporting they "offer" treatment, but actually providing none. To facilitate dissemination of service provision, it may be useful to identify incentives for U.S. facilities that are closely aligned with the criminal justice system, help facilities define policies and treatment roles for staff who smoke, and better define the role of facilities in preventing morbidity and mortality.