For Smokers Trying To Quit, Alcohol Use May Be Symptom Not Cause Of Troubles

Jason Pierce, MSN, MBA, RN for — Your Universe Online

Killing an estimated 443,000 people each year in the US, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 68 percent of all adult smokers in the United States want to quit smoking completely, and some 23.7 million adults tried to quit in 2010. The nicotine found in cigarettes, however, can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Because of this many smokers who try to quit relapse multiple times before quitting for good.

Newly published research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health has identified one trigger that may increase the likelihood of relapse. According to Michael Businelle, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University of Texas School of Public Health: “Identification of situations that increase the risk for relapse will aid in the development of novel interventions that can address these situations in the moment of occurrence.”

Businelle and colleagues conducted research into the relationship between the urge to smoke and the use of alcohol in adults attempting to quit smoking. Existing research suggests that consumption of alcohol increases smoking and the urge to smoke. The UTHealth study examines the interaction between the urge to smoke and alcohol consumption throughout the course of a day in the life of someone trying to quit smoking.

The researchers collected data from 302 individuals attempting to quit smoking. The participants were all females between the ages of 18 and 70, and living in Seattle between 1999 and 2002. Female participants were chosen because studies have suggested that women have an even greater difficulty quitting cigarettes than men.

The participants kept journals, recorded at randomly assigned times each day, describing their urges to smoke. In addition, the participant completed an assessment each time they felt the urge to smoke.

On days when alcohol was consumed the subjects reported higher and more volatile urges to smoke. The research also showed that alcohol consumption was more likely to occur on days when the subjects woke up with higher urges to smoke, which researchers say may indicate that alcohol is being used as a coping mechanism to avoid smoking.

“Interestingly, these higher, more volatile smoking urges were reported before the individual actually began drinking, suggesting that alcohol consumption may have been in response to smoking urges rather than vice versa” Businelle said.

These new findings suggest a cycle where a greater urge to smoke leads to drinking alcohol, which in turn escalates the urge to smoke. Such a cycle would likely increase the risk of relapse. If this is true then designing interventions that replace alcohol use with other coping mechanisms may be helpful at preventing relapse in the future.