Drinking Can Derail Women's Efforts to Quit Smoking

FRIDAY Feb. 15, 2013 -- You're sharing a bottle of wine at a party or sipping a margarita at the bar when you feel a strong urge for a cigarette -- even though you've quit smoking.

Unfortunately, willpower is all too weak in these situations, new research suggests.

Women trying to stop smoking may at greater risk for relapse if they drink alcohol, according to the study from the University of Texas School of Public Health. Researchers found that women who drink to cope with the stress of trying to kick the habit may actually trigger more intense urges to smoke.

Awareness of this effect may spur strategies to help drinkers tempted to return to tobacco.

"Identification of situations that increase the risk for relapse will aid in the development of novel interventions that can address these situations in the moment of occurrence," Michael Businelle, an assistant professor and study co-author, said in a UT news release.

The researchers tracked the smoking urges of 302 Seattle women aged 18 to 70 who were in the process of giving up smoking. The study, which was conducted from 1999 to 2002, focused on women because they have more difficulty quitting.

The women used hand-held computers to record their urges to smoke throughout the day. Participants also completed an assessment of each smoking urge they experienced. On days when the women drank alcohol, their smoking urges were different.

"Interestingly, these higher, more volatile smoking urges were reported before the individual actually began drinking, suggesting that alcohol consumption may have been in response to smoking urges rather than vice versa," Businelle noted.

Women also were more likely to drink alcohol if they woke up with a strong urge to smoke. This suggests that women trying to stop smoking may turn to alcohol to ease the stress of trying to quit, the researcher say. However, since drinking actually triggers more intense urges to smoke, it could increase women's risk of relapse, study authors concluded.

"On any given quit attempt, five out of 100 people are successful at quitting 'cold turkey,' 32 percent of those who take varenicline [Chantix] successfully quit, 25 percent of those who use patches and/or gum successfully quit, while those who combine counseling with medications have the best quit rates, greater than 30 percent," Businelle said.

People trying to quit smoking should seek help from their doctor, he added. He also offered the following tips for those who want to stop smoking for good:

  • Track and record cigarette smoking and urges by time of day and intensity.
  • Discard all lighters, cigarettes and ashtrays.
  • Be more active or start a regular exercise routine.
  • Inform friends and family of plans to quit smoking so they can provide support and social pressure to help you stick to that goal.

Smoking-related illnesses are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, claiming more than 1,200 lives daily, the release noted.

The research was funded with grants from the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers more suggestions on quitting smoking.

Posted: February 2013


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