Have a drink, light up a cigarette. Coincidence? Not likely. A growing body of research shows that smoking and drinking alcohol are often closely intertwined, and that has big implications for a frequent drinker who is trying to cut back on smoking. Here, we explain what you’ll need to know about the alcohol-smoking connection.
1. Alcoholism and nicotine addiction go hand in hand
Data shows that up to 90 percent of people addicted to alcohol also smoke. The connection goes the other way too. Smokers are more likely to drink alcohol and are 2.7 times more likely to become alcohol dependent than non-smokers. While smoking rates have steadily declined over the past three decades, smoking rates among alcoholics have remained persistently high.
2. Nicotine and alcohol work as a team in your brain
Alcohol and nicotine act on common mechanisms in the brain, creating complex interactions. Recent studies show that smoking may serve as a neurological cue to having a drink. Researchers think that alcohol fosters feelings of pleasure, which reinforce the effects of nicotine. Since nicotine stimulates and alcohol sedates the body, the two may moderate each other’s effects.
3. Genetics might play a role in alcohol and nicotine addictions
Studies suggest that the same set of genes that predispose an individual to alcoholism may also predispose them to smoking. Your genes may also put you at higher risk for certain diseases associated with smoking and drinking.
4. Drinkers trying to stop smoking need extra help to succeed
The data is clear: drinking makes it harder to quit smoking. But quitting drinking and smoking at the same time is incredibly hard, so it’s generally not recommended by doctors. Seek professional help if you are a committed drinker trying to reduce smoking. A doctor or therapist can be a consistent source of accountability and support. They can help you pinpoint emotional triggers, find coping strategies, and help prevent slip-ups, even if you maintain a modest level of drinking.