Quitting Alcohol vs Quitting Cigarettes

Published on April 20th, 2016

No matter how you look at it, an addiction is an addiction. However, it is important to realize that no two addictions and no two people are the same. For example, there are differences between quitting alcohol and/or drugs and quitting cigarettes. In the article to come, we are going to address a variety of questions. These include but are not limited to:

  • What are the primary differences between quitting alcohol/drugs vs. quitting cigarettes?
  • Why are there so many tools for quitting cigarettes, but not nearly as much help for those addicted to drugs or alcohol?
  • Do both types of addiction alter the same part of the brain?
  • Why are support groups unnecessary for quitting cigarettes?

A Study

A study published by the US National Library of Medicine asked approximately 1,000 people seeking treatment for drug or alcohol dependence about the difficulty of quitting this substance as opposed to quitting cigarettes. Here are some of the primary takeaways from the study:

  • 57 percent said that cigarettes would be harder to quit than drugs or alcohol.
  • Cigarettes were rated as less pleasurable than drugs or alcohol.
  • Due to less pleasure, experts note that cigarette dependence is the least addictive of the two.

The Effects of Nicotine as a Drug

Many people don’t consider nicotine a drug because it is legal to smoke cigarettes and chew tobacco. Despite this, it is an addictive drug that has a variety of negative impacts on the body. Another study published by the US National Library of Medicine, Harmful effects of nicotine, focuses on the immediate physical effects of nicotine. On direct application, nicotine can cause the following issues:

  • Irritation of the mouth and throat
  • Burning sensation of the mouth and throat
  • Nausea
  • Increased salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

The study added the following in regards to the toxicity of nicotine:

“Nicotine is one of the most toxic of all poisons and has a rapid onset of action. Apart from local actions, the target organs are the peripheral and central nervous systems. In severe poisoning, there are tremors, prostration, cyanosis, dypnoea, convulsion, progression to collapse and coma.”


The Addictive Nature of Nicotine

When you use any type of tobacco product, nicotine quickly makes its way into your bloodstream. Within seconds, the nicotine reaches your brain, creating a sense of energy and pleasure. But just as quick as you experience a high, the buzz fades and you are left feeling tired. Subsequently, your body wants to feel the buzz again, which leads to another cigarette. The cycle of a “buzz then fade” is what causes addiction. It is what keeps people from quitting, even when they know it is the right thing to do.

The Addictive Nature of Alcohol

Much the same as nicotine, people turn to alcohol for a variety of reasons. Recent research shows that chemicals in the brain make alcohol an attractive option for people searching for a rush of satisfaction. When you drink alcohol, the brain releases dopamine and endorphins. As a result, you experience a sense of satisfaction and positivity. However, these sensations only last so long, which is why people drink more alcohol. This is the only way to continually satisfy the brain and bring about the good feeling. In 2012, a report released by the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, at the University of California, San Francisco, discussed the impact of alcohol on the brain. In the study, PET images were used to study 25 people, some who drank moderately and others who drank heavily. Regardless of how much alcohol was consumed, researchers noticed that the brain always released endorphins when alcohol was consumed. Additionally, the more endorphins released the more pleasurable the alcohol consumption became.

Mixing Nicotine and Alcohol

For some people, smoking and drinking go together hand in hand. Due to the nature of both substances, along with the fact that alcohol is a co-carcinogen, using will increase the risk of addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tackled this phenomenon, offering the following explanation in regards to concurrent alcohol and tobacco dependence. “People who drink alcohol often also smoke and vice versa. Several mechanisms may contribute to concurrent alcohol and tobacco use. These mechanisms include genes that are involved in regulating certain brain chemical systems; neurobiological mechanisms, such as cross–tolerance and cross–sensitization to both drugs; conditioning mechanisms, in which cravings for alcohol or nicotine are elicited by certain environmental cues; and psychosocial factors (e.g., personality characteristics and coexisting psychiatric disorders).” Beating one addiction is difficult enough. This study showed that treatment outcomes for patients addicted to alcohol and nicotine are typically worse than those who are only addicted to one substance or the other. To go along with the above, it has been estimated that roughly 70 percent of alcoholics smoke a minimum of one pack of cigarettes per day (statistic courtesy of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 1998).
Along the same lines, smokers are more likely to consume alcohol than those who do not smoke. Those with a nicotine addiction have a 2.7 times greater risk of an alcohol addiction than a nonsmoker.

Addiction Treatment for Alcohol and Nicotine

There are many types of treatment for both alcohol and nicotine addiction. Even so, the approach to each addiction is different. For example, there are a variety of tools and products available for quitting cigarettes. Many of these are now mainstream, giving consumers the ability to purchase at a local grocery store, pharmacy, or other retail outlet. With an alcohol addiction, treatment options are more limited. There are no over the counter treatment methods, which forces people to quit cold turkey or seek the assistance of a rehab facility. While there are support groups available for nicotine addiction, these are not nearly as common as those for alcohol and drug abuse.

Final Word

An addiction is never a good thing. As somebody facing an alcohol or nicotine problem, it is essential to understand the impact on the body, the research that has been done, and the available treatment options. Even though alcohol and cigarettes have a similar effect on the body, the treatment approach is not the same.

PSA brought to you by QuitAlcohol.com