FRIDAY, April 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- For many, liquor and cigarettes go literally hand-in-hand. Now scientists believe they have figured out why.
According to a new study, alcohol boosts the rewarding effects of smoking in the brain, even among light smokers, and increases the urge to smoke.
The study, published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, included 16 non-alcoholic, heavy social drinkers who were also light smokers. Each of the smokers underwent three separate experiments where they drank one of three beverages: a non-alcoholic placebo liquid with an alcohol taste; a low-dose alcoholic beverage; and a high-dose alcoholic beverage.
The participants were not allowed to smoke two hours prior to or during each session. They also filled out questionnaires assessing their urge to smoke at various times during each of the three drinking experiments.
"Smoking urge ratings were higher after consuming four versus two alcohol drinks, and increases were not observed after consuming a placebo beverage," study first author Andrea C. King, a psychologist and associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, said in a prepared statement.
"These findings were observed in a nonsmoking environment, which may indicate that alcohol directly produced these effects and [that] they were not due to direct smoking cues triggering cigarette craving," King said. "In other words, the greater the alcohol consumption, the greater the urge to smoke."
Previous studies have identified a link between alcohol consumption and smoking but there's been only limited research on how alcohol actually affects the urge to smoke.
"One theory for why some people smoke when they drink is that nicotine may offset the sedative effect of alcohol," King said.
"However, we showed that the desire to smoke sharply increased within a half hour after drinking, which is when alcohol's stimulant-like -- as opposed to sedative-like -- effects are usually observed," she said.
"It also appears that smoking urges may increase rapidly after a person engages in binge drinking, that is, consuming four or more drinks relatively quickly," the Chicago researcher added. "These urges remained elevated even when blood alcohol curves were declining, so a person may be at increased risk for wanting to smoke for hours after drinking alcohol."
The American Lung Association offers a Quit Smoking Action Plan.