Many alcohol treatment programs avoid addressing smoking-related issues for fear of interrupting their primary treatment goals. But in a study published in September 2014 in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers from three American universities looked at the impact that smoking cessation has on the course of alcohol treatment and found that smoking cessation can cut the rate of alcohol problems in affected individuals by more than 33 percent.
Most American smokers are addicted to nicotine, and more than two-thirds of these smokers express a desire to bring to their cigarette intake to a full stop, according to figures compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, nicotine is highly addictive and most people who try to quit rapidly fail in their attempts at least once. Apart from any impact on alcohol use, people who successfully stop smoking experience benefits that include reduced chances of dying from lung cancer, reduced chances of dying from heart- and blood vessel-related illness and reduced chances of developing emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the two conditions that constitute the deadly disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD.
Proven approaches to smoking cessation include the use of nicotine replacement medications, the use of either of two medications (buproprion and varenicline) that don’t contain nicotine, participation in behavioral psychotherapy and participation in certain other forms of counseling conducted remotely or in-person. However, most people try to quit without the assistance of any of these verified methods (a fact that partially explains the high smoking cessation failure rate).
Smoking and Alcohol Treatment
Roughly four out of five people affected by alcohol dependence (i.e., alcoholism) smoke, and the majority of these cigarette consumers have an established nicotine addiction. In addition, 60 percent to 75 percent of all people enrolled in alcohol treatment programs qualify as addicted smokers. Statistically speaking, a person dealing with alcoholism has a substantially higher chance of dying from a smoking-related cause than from an alcohol-related cause. Evidence reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicates that most smokers enrolled in alcohol treatment want to stop using cigarettes. Evidence also indicates that people affected by alcoholism have the same basic ability to quit smoking as people not dealing with serious alcohol problems.
Benefits for Treatment
In the study published in Psychological Medicine, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota used information from a two-part, large-scale federal project called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to assess the impact that smoking cessation has on people taking part in treatment for alcohol use disorder. NESARC was conducted in the first decade of the 2000s. Its research team conducted the first phase of the survey in 2001 and 2002; the team conducted the second, follow-up phase of the survey in 2004 and 2005. The researchers involved in the current study compared the smoking cessation rates and alcohol treatment outcomes for the survey participants between NESARC’s first and second phases.
The researchers concluded that the NESARC participants in alcohol treatment who successfully quit smoking experienced ongoing alcohol-related problems roughly 36 percent less often than participants in alcohol treatment who did not stop smoking. In addition, they concluded that the alcohol-related benefits of smoking cessation remained statistically significant even when all other influences on alcohol use were taken into consideration.
The researchers also assessed the impact that smoking cessation has on the odds that people in treatment for other types of substance problems will continue to experience these problems in the future. They concluded that individuals who stop smoking have an approximately 69 percent smaller chance of experience ongoing drug or medication problems than their cigarette-using counterparts who don’t stop smoking.
The study’s authors believe that part of the positive impact of smoking cessation on continuing drug and medication problems stems from the positive impact of smoking cessation on continuing alcohol problems. They note that smokers who successfully quit have substantially smaller chances of ever developing diagnosable symptoms of any form of substance abuse or substance addiction.