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Alcohol and Cigarettes - An Addictive Alliance

Aug 18, 2007
Anyone who has ever spent any time in bars before smoking bans were enforced knows that drinking and smoking go together like a horse and carriage, ham and eggs, peanut butter and jelly. The reason may not be as obvious.

The combining of the two addictions has to do with alcohol and nicotine's differing affects on our nervous system. Alcohol, perhaps the best anti-anxiety medication ever discovered, is also a depressant. Nicotine, it turns out, is a really good antidepressant. Eureka! We can ease our anxieties with alcohol and offset the depression with nicotine! And that's exactly what many drinkers do. Practiced users can meter their moods with pinpoint accuracy as they alternate sips and smokes throughout the afternoon and evening.

Of course this stability comes with a considerable price tag. Liver and lungs are the obvious losers, but all organs, including the brain, suffer from the alcohol bath and the introduction of several thousand smoke borne chemicals into bloodstream. But it's very hard to stop, as any smoker can tell you, and, what's more,the combination is even deadlier because of alcohol's lulling effect.

"I know it's bad," we say to ourselves, "but I'll quit tomorrow."

Of course tomorrow never comes and even if we begin to be seriously concerned, well, a couple of drinks will take care of that.

"I have to quit!" many say. But the truth is, no, you don't. You can smoke and drink right up to the minute you die. Many do.

So what's the point? It's that behaviors are interrelated, are difficult to change, and that new behaviors need to have at least some of the positive effects of the old ones. In this case, releiving anxiety and depression.

It also means that if you both smoke and drink, you'll want to quit drinking first. Why? Because most people find it possible to smoke without drinking, but not to drink without smoking. One or two drinks will almost always dissolve any resistance to cigarettes. Besides, quitting smoking is infinitely harder than giving up booze. If you doubt that just ask a few people who've done both.

Think about the way you use alcohol and cigarettes, the easing of anxiety and depression. There are other ways to accomplish the same end. Exercise - physical activity and depression cannot exist at the same time - books, duplicate bridge, travel, classes, and dozens of other activities you've skipped because they interfered with you drinking. Time to dust off old aspirations.

No, the above examples don't offer the same fingertip availability or immediate gratification. But they don't extract the same premature death and disease cost either - nor the same dollar cost for that matter. Besides, aren't your current anxieties mostly centered around your drinking and smoking anyway?

So, quit the drinking. It's also good practice for kicking the cigarette habit. Much of the process is the same. Replace old behaviors with new and more rewarding ones. If you manage to knock off the alcohol crutch you'll also gain some confidence that change is possible - confidence that you'll need against the much tougher nicotine opponent.

Changing these habits isn't easy. But millions of successful people demonstrate that it's possible. You may need some help but most of us do with any difficult project whether it's remodeling our house or remaking our daily lives. That's why there are doctors, trainers, counselors, architects, and so on. Don't let the obvious difficulties stop you. You'll feel and be much better soon. Very soon.
About the Author
Dr. Edward Wilson has been developing and providing alternative alcohol counseling, including moderation, sincve 1990. He is the co-founder and Clinical Director of Your Empowering Solutions, Inc, located in S. California. http://www.non12step.com
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