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Researchers find link between cigarette cravings and alcohol

Smoking June 13, 1997
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EDT (0145 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- It's happy hour, and Bobby Selzer rallies with buddies at a neighborhood sports bar, a practice he's refined since adolescence.

"You know how kids do when you're in high school -- you go out and you get a six-pack of beer, and you get a pack of cigarettes, that sort of thing," Selzer observes.

Now 36, Selzer has tried unsuccessfully to kick the smoking part of the ritual. He reports that after two months of abstinence, alcohol made him cave in to his tobacco craving.


Researchers at Purdue University pooled a group of people such as Selzer -- heavy smokers and casual drinkers in their 30s -- and concluded that alcohol alone can prompt smokers to crave a cigarette.

All 60 participants in the Purdue study thought they were drinking vodka tonics, but half drank only tonic water. The result: Those who drank alcohol had a 35 percent higher level of cigarette cravings than those who didn't drink alcohol.

"When people are craving a cigarette, heart rate goes up, skin conductance or sweat gland activity goes up, your hands get sweatier and your finger temperature drops slightly," said researcher Stephan Tiffany.

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But a physical link between cigarettes and alcohol may have something to do with the brain's so-called "pleasure center."

"Within seconds, maybe within 10 seconds after you take a puff on a cigarette, the nicotine and the other 4,000 chemicals are in your brain," said psychiatrist Sheldon Cohen.


"And in a sense, it has a direct pipeline to this pleasure center. And alcohol also does the same thing."

Selzer is the first to admit that if he is to succeed in his quest to quit smoking, he may have to modify his weekend behavior.

"If anybody wants to quit smoking, they probably should not drink for at least six months," he says. And with the aid of a smoking cessation program, Selzer will try again to kick the habit.


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