Alcohol and Cigarettes - An Addictive Alliance
By: Edward Wilson
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
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
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.
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
Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate
(Health and Geriatric Psychologist)
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