Alcohol Counseling on Smoking Quitlines Helps Heavy Drinkers Kick Cigarettes

Posted on January 25th, 2015

The addition of alcohol counseling to the services provided by smoking quitlines helps hazardous drinkers quit smoking, a new study finds.

Heavy drinkers have increased chances of regularly smoking cigarettes; unfortunately, heavy drinking can interfere with the success of smoking cessation efforts. In a study published in late 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from four U.S. institutions examined the potential usefulness of phone counseling offered on smoking quitlines in helping excessive alcohol consumers halt or reduce their cigarette intake.

Defining Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking gets its name because it involves the regular consumption of beer, liquor or any other alcoholic beverage in amounts that exceed the widely recognized limits for moderate daily or weekly alcohol intake. A woman drinks heavily when her daily intake exceeds three servings of alcohol at least once a month or when her weekly intake exceeds seven alcohol servings at least once a month. A man drinks heavily when his daily intake exceeds four alcohol servings at least once a month or when his weekly intake exceeds 14 alcohol servings at least once a month. While people have varying definitions of what constitutes a “drink” of wine, beer or any other form of alcohol, a standard alcohol serving contains 0.6 oz of pure alcohol, regardless of the beverage under consideration. Many individuals’ single drinks actually contain more than a standard serving of alcohol.

Even if you only drink heavily once a month, your lifetime odds of developing alcohol use disorder are roughly one in five. If you drink heavily once a week, your lifetime odds increase substantially to one in three. If you drink heavily twice or more per week, you have a roughly one in two lifetime chance of developing alcohol use disorder.

Drinking and Smoking

Independently, a pattern of heavy drinking and a pattern of habitual smoking each take a major toll on human health when maintained over extended amounts of time. In combination, heavy drinking and regular smoking may have an even higher health cost. In fact, research findings indicate that much of the brain dysfunction typically associated with regular heavy drinking alone may actually be the product of excessive alcohol intake combined with repeated nicotine/tobacco use. Even in a person affected by alcoholism, long-term health considerations linked to smoking can potentially outweigh the seriousness of long-term health considerations linked to ongoing alcohol addiction. In fact, a person in alcohol treatment who habitually uses cigarettes has a higher statistical chance of dying from smoking-related causes than from alcohol-related causes.

Can Phone Counseling Help?

In the study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers from Yale University, Brown University, the Medical University of South Carolina and Roswell Park Cancer Institute sought to determine if phone counseling conducted over smoking quitlines can improve heavy drinkers’ odds of reducing or breaking their reliance on nicotine/tobacco. Smoking quitlines are hotlines specifically established to provide information and advice to people who want to stop using cigarettes (or other smokable forms of tobacco). These hotlines typically employ trained counselors who know how to provide effective encouragement and appropriate smoking cessation resources. People throughout the U.S. have access to local, state or national versions of smoking quitlines free of charge.

The researchers used data gathered from 1,948 people who accessed the state-level quitline in New York and reported involvement in a pattern of heavy drinking. Some of these individuals only received advice and information pertaining to smoking cessation; however, others received advice and information pertaining to both smoking cessation and reduced alcohol use or alcohol abstinence. The researchers concluded that, as expected, quitline callers who consume alcohol in excessive amounts have a harder time halting smoking than quitline callers who don’t consume alcohol in excessive amounts. However, they also concluded that, when heavy-drinking quitline callers receive alcohol-related advice and information as well as smoking-related advice and information, their chances of quitting smoking rise substantially.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that the regular addition of alcohol counseling to the services provided by smoking quitlines can significantly increase heavy drinkers’ chances of halting nicotine/tobacco use. They also believe that the average smoking quitline is well-positioned to add alcohol-related resources to its repertoire.

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