Nicotine and Alcohol

Most of us are aware of the vast amount of health risks associated with cigarette smoking that should be motivation to quit, such as heart disease and cancer, so we wont even go into those obvious points. However, for the alcoholic, it is a much deeper issue. We're talking about addiction here. The brazen and ugly truth of the matter is that you are still a drug addict if you continue to smoke cigarettes and they will most likely result in cravings for your substance of choice and relapse, because nicotine and alcohol addiction perpetuate one another.

One study from the University of California (San Francisco) found that "smoking appears to interfere with the brain's ability to recover from the effects of chronic alcohol abuse." Another study from Stanford University found that those who quit smoking were more likely to not be drinking at the 12 month mark following treatment - 78% compared to 42%. Other research has shown that the opioid-addicted can achieve better outcomes in recovery if they don't smoke. 

Almost all alcoholics are smokers. It's pretty rare to find one that doesn't smoke. As a matter of fact, even the founding father of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, died of a disease directly related to smoking, (emphysema) and so did the co-founder, Dr. Bob Smith; he died from cancer, which was likely linked to his heavy smoking as well. They go hand in hand and feed one another and there are a variety of physiological reasons this occurs.

Nicotine use is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome, because it alters the brain in a similar manner as alcohol, heroin and cocaine. It is frequently regarded as a gateway drug or the drug of entry, meaning that many people begin their addiction with nicotine and it carries them onward to addiction to alcohol or other harder drugs. New research indicates that nicotine actually incites a biological urge to drink more. Yes, it actually creates cravings for alcohol.

This is largely the result of the tremendous impact nicotine has on the neurotransmitters in our brain. Nicotine incites the discharge of large amounts of acetylcholine, norepinephrine, serotonin, endorphins, epinephrine, vasopressin, arginine, and the all-important dopamine. Excessive stimulation of neurotransmitters leads to not enough neurotransmitters, and not enough neurotransmitters results in more cravings for addictive substances and symptoms like depression, because the brain will either reduce receptors for the neurotransmitter or stop production when there is excess or artificial stimulation.

Remember, dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in the reward pathway that gives us feelings of well-being and pleasure when we drink alcohol or take other mind-altering drugs; serotonin is our natural antidepressant and acetylcholine is vital for memory and cognitive function as well as mood. Endorphins are the body's natural painkillers and produce a feeling of well-being and empowerment. Norepinephrine keeps us alert, and too much norepinephrine makes us anxious, wired and hyper. When these neurotransmitters are not produced in sufficient amounts, cravings for addictive substances like, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, caffeine, etc., ensue, because these substances have the ability to artificially mimic the natural neurotransmitter.

Additionally, when you smoke it constricts your blood vessels, but when you drink alcohol it dilates them. Therefore, smoking and drinking are an antidote to one another and create a vicious cycle in your body for needing each one to counteract the other. If you continue to smoke after getting sober, you set yourself up for possible relapse as your body will still desire alcohol to self-medicate this cycle.

Smoking also inhibits your ability to absorb many vital nutrients like vitamin A, vitaman E, selenium, zinc, and calcium, which are needed for a healthy brain and it increases bone loss.

Cigarettes are Toxins

Next, let's take a closer look at nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive drug and a strong neurotoxin. It is such an effective poison that it can be utilized as a pesticide; and often was decades ago. I recently watched an old Andy Griffith episode where the gardener was using nicotine to kill bugs on a bush. There are roughly 10 milligrams of nicotine in one cigarette, but you only inhale about one or two milligrams per cigarette. One drop of pure nicotine would actually kill a grown adult.

Not only that, tobacco also contains high amounts of actual pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers that are applied to it while it is growing. Pesticides and herbicides can land on receptors for hormones and neurotransmitters and impair their functions and it some of them can also impair the brain's ability to produce certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.

Another crucial aspect to note is that cigarettes are comprised of over 4,000 toxic chemicals and a minimum of 43 of them are cancer-causing. These toxins include, but are not limited to, benzene, tar, arsenic (also known as rat poison), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide (also known as gas chamber gas), ammonia, acetone (also known as nail polish remover), and here's the big one - acetaldehyde. 

Acetaldehyde is another neurotoxin that has the unusual capacity to fuse with serotonin and dopamine, two of the primary neurotransmitters involved with addiction, and produce tetrahydro-isoquinolines, which are elements that are very much like opioids and can provide essentially the same kind of high as opioids.

So cigarettes will feed your body with higher amounts of acetaldehyde and this will trigger the opiate-like substances that can make you crave alcohol, opioids or other addictive substances. Acetaldehyde and ammonia are deliberately added to cigarettes to boost the addictive capabilities of nicotine while other ingredients are added deliberately to modify your brain chemistry so it is more amenable to nicotine. When the alcoholic or drug addict in recovery continues to smoke, you keep yourself stuck in that whole acetaldehyde addiction process.

Cigarettes also contain high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, antimony, lead and arsenic. Metals accumulate in the body over time where they disrupt the brain, endocrine system, immune system and nervous system, and can cause a wide variety of mental and physical health conditions like depression, anxiety, tourette's, heart disease, kidney disease, MS, lung problems and much more. Metals can impair both the production and function of neurotransmitters and be a significant contributor to cravings for addictive substances.

The last critical factor related to smoking is that nicotine causes the liver to release high levels of sugar, which gives you a nice relaxing high, but as we've learned in other discussions on this site, high levels of sugar in the blood alert the pancreas to release insulin to bring the sugar levels down. This results in a plunging of the blood sugar level and hypoglycemia symptoms like fatigue, irritability, intense hunger, cravings for sweets, alcohol, caffeine or drugs occur. Thus, you crave another cigarette to get relief from the hypoglycemia symptoms. It's impossible to keep blood sugar levels stable if you're a smoker and stable blood sugar is needed to overcome cravings for alcohol or your substance of choice.

Not only that, one of the ingredients added to cigarettes is sugar. So you're filling your body with sugar even if you're not eating it, and giving the neurotransmitters a double whammy when you light up. Both the sugar in the cigarettes and the liver releasing it in the bloodstream will also feed Candida yeast, a common problem in the addicted population that can result in cravings for the substance of choice, and keep the body in a state of chronic stress which makes it impossible to make improvements in these areas; both of which may lead to relapse.

This is also why smoking works as an appetite suppressant. When you eat, it takes about 20 minutes for your food to bring your sugar levels up, but when you smoke it happens in only a matter of seconds. It provides you with an instant sense of false satiation and why people usually gain weight when they quit smoking. Once you stop giving your body nicotine, it takes time for the body to learn how to adjust its blood sugar levels on its own. Additionally, this roller-coaster ride with blood sugar takes the adrenal glands on a vicious ride and also contributes to depleting the adrenal glands, which often results in chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, inability to handle stress and much more.

Nicotine in the Brain

To illustrate this more clearly, let's look at what happens in the brain when you smoke. 

  • You light up the cigarette and inhale.
  • Within seconds the nicotine is in your brain.
  • Once in the brain, it stimulates the release of high levels of dopamine, acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters. This results in the relaxing high you feel.
  • A few seconds later nicotine enters the liver and stimulates the liver to dump sugar into the blood stream. You now get another emotional boost from the sugar high and feel energized and confident. However, now the pancreas recognizes there's too much sugar in the blood stream and releases insulin to bring it down.
  • Your blood sugar level crashes to levels lower than you started out with and at the same time your neurotransmitters have stopped releasing in excess. You now feel tired, cranky, depressed, irritable, nervous, and hungry and need another cigarette.
  • Over time, as this pattern continues, the brain becomes desensitized to the high levels of neurotransmitters and requires more and more nicotine to achieve the same feelings of pleasure (tolerance). Eventually, you can't feel relaxed, pleasure, focused or function normally unless you smoke a cigarette (dependence).

What we see here is that nicotine affects the brain in the exact same way that alcohol and other hard drugs do. Once again we find a substance that stimulates the neurotransmitters in the brain in the same manner as drugs and alcohol and results in tolerance and dependence. Remember excessive stimulation of neurotransmitters is what gives you the incredible euphoric feeling that leads to addiction of drugs and alcohol, and what results in depletion and/or disruption of neurotransmitters that leads to addiction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. 

If the recovering alcoholic or addict continues to smoke, the nicotine is keeping the body and brain in a physiological state of addiction. The process of addiction has never stopped, and this leads to cravings for alcohol or the substance of choice. In the case of an alcoholic or drug addict, the cravings are for alcohol and/or drugs. In the case of a sugar or carb addict or a compulsive overeater, the cravings are for sugar and carbs. Since the neurotransmitters are still in a state of hyper-stimulation, the brain never has a chance to normalize; thus, putting the addict at high risk of relapse. One addiction leads to another. This disruption and overstimulation of the neurotransmitters make it impossible to overcome addiction to alcohol or any substance.

This is one of the primary reasons that alcoholics and addicts of all kinds continue to battle cravings for their substance of choice. Nicotine and alcohol or drug addiction are all interconnected and perpetuate the addiction to one another.
In order to quit one, you must quit the other. As long as nicotine is in the picture, cravings to drink or drug will most likely continue.

E-Cigarettes (Electronic Cigarettes)

The new E-cigarette, (electronic cigarette) marketed heavily by the infamous R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, is not any healthier for you and if you're using them, you are still a drug addict. Nicotine is an addictive drug no matter how you consume it; be it electronic or tobacco.

The commercials for this product are repulsive, disturbing, disgusting and insulting to the intelligent mind. I mean really, there is nothing smarter or more sophisticated about this cigarette. As a matter of fact, in some ways it makes you look even more foolish for falling for this line of B.S. and trying to pawn it off to those of us who know better.

"We're all adults here," they say in the commercial. Well then, it is time to act like an adult and quit trying to find a way to continue your addiction. The need to hold a cigarette in your hand, move it to your lips, and have it in your mouth (oral stimulation - think baby pacifier or thumb sucking) is an immature and infantile need. There is nothing freeing about being addicted, regardless of whether it is electronic or not.

Pretty much everything that I have presented on this page would apply to the electronic cigarette as well. Proponents of the E-cigs claim that they are healthier for you because their is no tobacco smoke. What they fail to mention is that you are only exchanging the tobacco smoke for a variety of other harmful and cancer-causing agents.

The electronic cigarette consists of a stainless steel tube that resembles a cigarette and generates heated nicotine-infused water via a lithium battery to produce an odorless vapor, designed to simulate the smoking experience. Now, you may be able to avoid yellow teeth and smoker's breath, but you will still be exposed to toxic additives, emulsifiers, artificial flavors, diethylene glycol (known more commonly as anti-freeze) and nitrosamines (carcinogenic compounds) and tetramethylpyrazine,(a substance that can result in brain damage) as well as fluoride, if you use tap water.

Furthermore, the E-cigarette has been found to contain high levels of metals like tin, nickel, silver, copper and  nanoparticles; in some cases your intake is more than you get from a traditional cigarette. Due to the microscopic size of nanoparticles, they can easily enter the bloodstream, blood vessels and other tissues throughout the body.
Not only that, the amount of nicotine an electronic cigarette contains is an even higher and more toxic dose than what you get in an actual cigarette; sometimes double or triple the amount. Furthermore, mistakes made in manufacturing may even result in a lethal dose; as mentioned previously, nicotine is a neurotoxin and can kill you. This is of grave concern for children; whose bodies cannot handle the same dosage as an adult. When smoking an electronic cigarette, you must be very careful not to inhale too intensely or you will suck the actual nicotine liquid into your mouth; which can't always be achieved, so you may be taking in nicotine directly.

What's even more frightening, unlike tobacco, there are no regulations at all on the sale of E-cigs, and no age restrictions, which means children can access them and become addicted at an earlier age. They are marketed not only to adults, but teens and children, and can be found quite easily online or any mall where children frequently hang out. This false image that electronic cigarettes are cool and not harmful that the manufacturers are trying to peddle, is very dangerous for the mind of a child and should be criminal. I wonder, how do these people sleep at night?

Since the E-cigarettes are not regulated, that means the non-smokers are once again subjected to a variety of toxins against their will. Some electronic cigarettes are subject to explosion. One man in Florida lost his front teeth and part of his tongue, and was severely burned when his e-cig blew up in his face.

The E-cig is not going to help you overcome nicotine addiction; they are going to make you even more addicted. They will have the same, and maybe even a more potent, impact on your brain chemistry, which means they will contribute to addiction to harder substances, as well as depression, anxiety, loss of motivation and focus, nervousness and a host of other mental health issues.

Regardless of what form you are consuming it, nicotine addiction is caused by the same thing that causes alcohol and drug addiction, depleted neurotransmitters in the brain. When you restore balance to those neurotransmitters with the proper diet, nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes, then you can overcome addiction to all substances, including nicotine and alcohol. Simply eliminate all mind-altering substances from your life and replenish the neurotransmitters that have been affected by nicotine addiction, which includes acetylcholine, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, and cravings will disappear.


Smita Das, et al. Stanford University. Quitting Smoking in the Face of Co-Occurring Acute Psychiatric and Addictive Disorders. What is Possible

University of California. Smoking Interferes With Brain's Recovery From Alcoholism. March 6, 2006.

Emma Hitt. Smoking Thwarts Positive Outcomes in Opioid Addiction. April 29, 2012., “Prevent Alcoholism”

NIDA for Teens. “Facts on Drugs,”

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Pierce-Davis, Carol, Ph.D. “The Biochemistry and Physiology of Smoking.” Texas Department of Health Bulletin, 2005. Also available online at of_Smoking.pdf

New South Wales Government Department of Health. “Nicotine and Other Poisons.”

Intelegen, Inc. “Acetaldehyde: A Common and Potent Neurotoxin How to Prevent the Damaging Effects of Smoking, Alcohol Consumption, and Air Pollution.”

Amal K. Mitra. Effect of Smoking on vitamin A, vitamin E, and other trace elements. Nutrition Journal 2004.

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