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Research Summary

Alcohol Increases the Urge to Smoke

Many studies have shown a positive association between cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. To examine this association more closely, researchers assessed the urge to smoke in 16 heavy drinkers/light smokers* who all drank the following (one beverage per test session): a placebo beverage (with 1% ethanol for taste), a low dose of alcohol (approximately 2 drinks), and a high dose of alcohol (approximately 4 drinks). Subjects refrained from smoking 2 hours before and throughout the test sessions. They reported their urges to smoke at baseline and after consuming the drinks.

  • Both the high and low doses of alcohol, compared with placebo, significantly increased the urge to smoke for stimulation. The high dose of alcohol produced the greatest increases.
  • The high and low doses of alcohol, compared with placebo, produced similar (but nonsignificant) increases in the urge to smoke to relieve negative mood and withdrawal.
  • Baseline smoking levels did not significantly affect the results.

Comments:

In this experiment, alcohol use produced dose-dependent increases in the urge to smoke in heavy-drinking, cigarette-deprived light smokers. Urge increases were stronger for positive reinforcing effects (stimulation) than for negative reinforcing effects (to relieve negative mood and withdrawal). Given these results, clinicians should consider advising alcohol abstinence when helping patients to stop smoking.

Joseph Conigliaro, MD, MPH
*Those without alcohol dependence who consumed 10-40 drinks per week with at least 1 weekly binge (>=5 drinks per occasion for men, >=4 for women) and smoked at least 3 times per week but <12 cigarettes per smoking day

Reference:

King AC, Epstein AM. Alcohol dose-dependent increases in smoking urge in light smokers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005;29(4):547-552.


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