Alcoholics Who Quit Smoking Tend to Reduce Drinking Levels

Posted on August 14th, 2015

People affected by alcoholism typically lower their alcohol intake when they stop smoking cigarettes, according to recently reported findings from a team of American researchers.

People dealing with alcoholism (alcohol dependence) have a much higher chance of smoking cigarettes than the general population and also have relatively high chances of dying from smoking-related causes. In a study published in April 2015 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two U.S. institutions looked at what happens to typical alcohol intake patterns when individuals with alcoholism and other segments of the alcohol-consuming population go through smoking cessation and halt their cigarette use. These researchers identified a post-cessation decline in drinking levels that lasts for at least a short amount of time.

Alcoholism and Smoking

Among both medical professionals and members of the general public, alcoholism is the common shorthand for a persistent brain-based illness known as alcohol dependence, which occurs when recurring intake of excessive amounts of alcohol produces dysfunctional chemical changes in a brain region called the pleasure center. Doctors in the U.S. no longer diagnose alcoholism as a distinct and separate condition. Instead, they diagnose the condition as a particular facet of alcohol use disorder, a larger condition that also encompasses diagnosable symptoms of non-dependent alcohol abuse. Recent figures compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicate that approximately 17 million Americans over the age of 17 have alcohol dependence-related and/or alcohol abuse-related symptoms of alcohol use disorder.

Cigarette smoking is roughly 200 percent more common among people addicted to alcohol than among people in the rest of the U.S. population. In addition, individuals addicted to the nicotine in tobacco develop alcoholism roughly 300 percent more often than individuals not addicted to nicotine. A number of factors may at least partially account for the highly symbiotic nature of alcohol dependence, smoking and nicotine addiction, including the overlapping brain effects of alcohol and nicotine, the ability of alcohol use to stimulate cravings for nicotine and the ability of nicotine use to stimulate cravings for alcohol. Crucially, people affected by alcoholism have a higher level of exposure to smoking-related death than alcohol-related death.

Smoking Cessation

Evidence consistently shows that most habitual smokers want to quit. However, nicotine fosters a rapidly developing and tenacious form of addiction, and failure in smoking cessation is quite common, even in those people who do eventually halt their cigarette use. Scientifically verified approaches to quitting smoking include smoking-specific counseling, use of a non-nicotine-based medication called varenicline, use of a non-nicotine-based medication called buproprion and use of various forms of nicotine replacement therapy (including nicotine lozenges, nicotine patches and nicotine gum). The combination of multiple approaches may substantially improve the odds of success.

Impact on Alcohol Intake

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from the University of Wisconsin and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital used data gathered from 1,301 adults to gauge the impact that smoking cessation has on short-term alcohol consumption. Demographic subgroups among this pool of participants included people with alcoholism, women and people of various racial/ethnic backgrounds. All of the participants in each subgroup received a medication-based smoking cessation treatment. For each individual, the researchers assessed alcohol intake levels for two weeks prior to the first day of cessation and two weeks after cigarette use ended.

The researchers concluded that people affected by alcoholism experience a substantial drop in their alcohol intake when they quit smoking. The amount of alcohol typically consumed before quitting smoking has a particularly large impact on the post-cessation drinking of two groups of cigarette users: men and any person who has no history of alcoholism.

The study’s authors note that people who drink large amounts of alcohol before quitting smoking may continue to do so even if they successfully halt their cigarette use. In turn, continuing involvement in a high level of alcohol intake may jeopardize the long-term chances of remaining cigarette-free.

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