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Drinking Habits

Drinking Alcohol and Smoking: A Dangerous Combo

August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 9, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 9, 2023
10 min read

The tapeworm diet. Foot detox pads. Breatharianism. In a world where trendy (and sometimes dangerous!) health fads come and go, alcohol and cigarettes have been consistently considered the bad news. We’ve all heard the warnings, seen the graphic images on cigarette packs, and maybe even had a friend or two caution us about mixing the two. But why is this combination so notorious? What are the effects of smoking and drinking at the same time? Alcohol is a depressant for our central nervous system, and nicotine, which is found in cigarettes, acts as a stimulant. When consumed together, the combination of these opposing effects doesn't neutralize the risks — instead, it exacerbates them.

To be clear, our goal here isn't to rain on your parade — it’s about fostering awareness and offering some science-backed guidance to navigate this tricky territory. Cigarettes and alcohol might sound like a perfect combo, but they cause more harm than we might realize.

Unraveling the Chemistry

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Alcohol and cigarettes are the OG “bad boys” of the lifestyle world. When consumed individually, drinking and smoking pose significant health risks. When we mix them, though, it's like pouring gasoline on an open fire — the risk multiplies. But why?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that slows down brain activity and causes relaxation, while nicotine, the primary addictive substance in tobacco, is a stimulant that speeds up the heart and offers a short-term energy boost (which is sometimes followed by a cigarette hangover). This might seem like a match made in heaven — a case of opposites attract — but sadly, it’s more a recipe for disaster. The combination amplifies the harmful effects of each substance and can lead to a spiraling pattern of dependency, reinforcing the use of one when consuming the other. (You might even have a friend who tells you, “I only smoke when I drink” — it’s pretty common!)

Risks of Combining Alcohol With Smoking

Double Trouble

Health-wise, these two substances form a dangerous alliance. Regular consumption can lead to a host of issues like oral and throat cancer, heart disease, liver damage, and many other conditions. Their synergistic effects cause twice the damage and wreak havoc in the body. 

A person who smokes and drinks is more likely to suffer from several diseases than someone who only drinks or only smokes:

  • Cancers. Independently, smoking and alcohol are associated with lung and liver cancer, respectively. The combination also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus. Some studies have found that the combination of smoking and drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Heart and circulatory issues. Both alcohol and tobacco can lead to high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, causing heart disease.
  • Stroke. Smoking and heavy drinking are significant risk factors for strokes.
  • Respiratory problems. This duo can lead to chronic bronchitis, causing persistent coughing and breathing difficulties. Moreover, emphysema — a long-term lung disease, often caused by smoking — is worsened by alcohol.
  • Liver disorders. Alcohol damages the liver, but when combined with smoking, the risk of cirrhosis escalates. Inflammation of the liver, caused by alcohol, is exacerbated by smoking.
  • Digestive issues. The combination increases the risk of ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, and it can lead to inflammation of the pancreas.
  • Reproductive problems. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are known to lead to sexual dysfunction in men and problems with fertility in women.

Drinking and Smoking at the Same Time: A Dangerous Duo

The interplay of alcohol and nicotine when consumed at the same time also increases addiction potential. Alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and impair judgment, making us more likely to light up a cigarette. Similarly, nicotine's stimulating effects may prompt us to drink more to regain the initial relaxed feeling. This push-pull dynamic creates a vicious cycle that can be tough to break.

Breaking Free

Now that we’ve unveiled the harsh reality, let’s turn the tables! Here are a few science-backed, effective ways to distance yourself from this hazardous duo:

  • Say hello to hydration. Alcohol dehydrates your body. Counteract this by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after alcohol consumption. It’ll make you feel fuller, too, potentially reducing the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Create a healing playlist. Music can be a powerful tool in managing your emotions. Create a playlist with songs that motivate and uplift you. Listen to it when you need a boost, especially during times when you're likely to drink or smoke.
  • Gamify your progress. Make a game out of quitting or cutting back. Each day you resist alcohol or cigarettes, give yourself a point. When you accumulate enough points, reward yourself with something you enjoy — a spa day, a new book, or maybe a fun excursion.
  • Document your journey. Start a journal to document your experience. Record your triggers, your challenges, and your victories. Reflecting on your entries can provide valuable insights into your progress and areas of improvement.
  • Establish new traditions. If your social gatherings often involve drinking or smoking, try introducing new traditions. Plan outdoor activities like hiking or beach outings, or indoor events like game nights, potluck dinners, or a book club.
  • Reach for flavorful distractions. Keep your mouth busy with something flavorful and satisfying. Crunchy fruits and veggies, sugar-free gum, and even sunflower seeds can be helpful.
  • Tap into the power of aromatherapy. Essential oils are more than just pleasant fragrances. Certain scents like peppermint, lavender, or black pepper have been shown to help manage cravings for nicotine. Try carrying a small bottle of oil or a scented handkerchief with you and take a whiff when cravings hit.
  • Swap the stimulants. Substitute healthier alternatives for alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. Herbal teas, fresh juices, or nicotine-free e-cigarettes can be good starting points.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation can help you manage cravings, resist impulses, and manage stress — a common trigger for both smoking and drinking.
  • Use visual reminders. Keep visual reminders of your goal around you: a picture of your loved ones, an inspiring quote, or an image representing the life you want as you continue to cut back or quit.
  • Get a cutback or quit buddy. If you have a friend who's also trying to cut back or quit, become each other's support system. You can share your experiences, motivate each other during difficult times, and celebrate milestones together.

Change takes time, and the road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It's about small, consistent steps forward. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and remember that every step you take brings you closer to your goal. Your journey to health and wellness is unique to you. Own it, be proud of it, and continue striving for a healthier future!

Ready To Leave Old Habits Behind? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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