How Alcohol Increases the Effects of Cigarettes

Published On: August 9, 2023

It’s a known observation that alcohol and cigarette smoking can go hand in hand; most places that serve alcoholic drinks in the UK have designated areas just for smoking.

Many people will only “social smoke” or smoke only whilst drinking and out with friends. Whilst this can be seen as not smoking, each time you have a cigarette, you are still inhaling toxic chemicals into the body.

Statistically, non-alcoholics are less likely to smoke compared to alcoholics, whilst binge drinking is more common in smokers (1).

Whilst several studies have taken place to look into the correlation, there is still speculation as to the actual reason. Many researchers would attribute the link to multiple reasons, whilst others have tried to focus on one link to further understand it.

Effects of Alcohol

A bar with a queue of people

Alcohol is consumed because of the effects that it has on people. In moderation, people will find increases in pleasure, relaxation and sociability.

Whilst drinking in moderation can help to limit them, there are still many negative side effects associated with alcohol consumption.

One of the main issues associated with overconsumption is the effect that alcohol has on the brain’s ability to process. This causes people to become unstable, less aware of their surroundings, and less aware of their emotions.

These combined can become very dangerous very quickly. Heavy drinkers can find that their vision has become blurry and has become unstable on their feet, and they can quickly find themselves stumbling into dangerous places like rivers and canals.

It can also increase the chances of violent encounters. As others are also drunk, it becomes easy to accidentally bump into each other. This, mixed with the lack of emotional ability, can lead both parties to become aggressive and potentially hurt themselves or others.

Another issue associated with alcohol is that of reduced inhibitions. This can cause people to do things they normally wouldn’t. They could end up putting themselves in dangerous situations that they would normally avoid if sober.

It can also cause people to do things they wouldn’t normally do, such as smoking cigarettes or taking narcotics.

Effects of Tobacco Smoking

cigarette burning

Smoking cigarettes has been known to cause a wide range of health issues for some time now.

On average, each cigarette smoked reduces your life by 11 minutes. Whilst cigarettes do have some perceived benefits, it is argued that the negatives far outweigh the positives when it comes to smoking.

Smoking cigarettes releases dopamine into the brain, which makes the brain feel pleasure. This makes cigarettes very addictive, as the brain wants more dopamine, as each chemical release causes the brain to feel pleasure.

Many smokers say that smoking cigarettes produces a feeling of relaxation, although some researchers argue that this is simply due to the action of taking long deep breaths, similar to how meditation calms someone down.

Cigarettes and the smoke produced contain hundreds of chemicals that harm the body and can cause serious harm and various types of cancer. A number of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke can be found in some other unexpected places:

  • Tar – This is the name for the mixture of dangerous chemicals that don’t fully combust
  • Arsenic – A common poison used for rats, as well as used to preserve wood.
  • Benzene – A solvent that is usually found in crude oil and used on an industrial scale.
  • Cadmium – A chemical commonly found in batteries
  • Ethanol – Common anti-freeze ingredient.
  • Polonium-210 – A highly radioactive element
  • Carbon monoxide – A poisonous gas commonly produced through the incomplete combustion of materials containing carbon. A common gas in exhaust fumes.
  • Many more, including chemicals found in industrial pesticides, industrial dyes and paints, and chemicals used to make explosives.

Due to the sheer amount of chemicals found in cigarette smoke, it should come as no surprise that smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body.

Internal organs on a dummy

Smoking, both long-term and short-term, can cause:

  • Lung Disease; as smoking involves inhaling cigarette smoke directly into the lungs, lung disease and lung cancer are popular issues amongst smokers. This can lead to emphysema and bronchitis
  • Heart disease and circulatory problems, including but not limited to heart attack, stroke, and narrowing of the arteries.
  • Smoking is known to cause at least 15 types of cancer, including a risk of breast cancer and a risk of cancers in most major organs in the body.
  • Smoking tobacco is also attributed to reduced fertility within both men and women, with chances of impotence appearing in heavy smokers.

With all that said, smoking tobacco can cause serious harm and, in the long term, major cancer risks, leading to premature death (2).

Most people are aware of the dangers of smoking; however, when drinking alcohol, we see many people smoking who are aware of the facts, and many people have asked why this is.

Why Do You Want to Smoke When Drinking?

ash tray full of cigarettes

One of the effects of alcohol is that of lowered inhibitions, making someone agree to things that they normally wouldn’t do. This means when your friend offers you a cigarette, you are more likely to say yes, despite being sober you know it’s a bad idea.

By having a cigarette, it can help the brain to counteract the effects of alcohol, meaning that someone has to drink more alcohol to get to the same level of drunk as a non-smoker. This can also mean people will use smoking as a way to try to regain focus.

Smoking also releases dopamine into the brain, so it can make your brain feel pleasure, so naturally, it starts to crave that feeling of increased pleasure that comes from mixing both alcohol and nicotine.

Behavioural Link

A person with clasped hands, thinking

Using clinical, epidemiological and laboratory evidence, the researchers were able to indicate a clear behavioural link between alcohol usage and nicotine smoking.

Through testing the changing “perceived satisfaction” levels in candidates under differing conditions, they were able to determine that the satisfaction for people who had been drinking alcohol was increased.

Due to alcohol increasing the pleasure received from smoking whilst also simultaneously reducing your inhibitions, it’s understandable that people are more likely to smoke more whilst drinking.

It should be noted, however, that certain chemicals can reduce the pleasure perceived from smoking, even under the effects of alcohol (3).

Is it Worse if I Drink and Smoke?

alcohol being poured into glasses

Smoking whilst drinking alcohol can be worse for you than either one by themselves. This is because alcohol and tobacco have different effects on the body that together can increase the damage caused to the body.

People who drink and smoke at the same time are at an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. Whilst drinking alcohol, damage can be done to the mouth and throat, allowing the chemicals to enter the bloodstream much easier in those areas.

Alcohol also affects how the body manages and breaks down chemicals. Drinking whilst smoking can cause the body to handle the cigarette chemicals incorrectly, meaning they cause more damage than usual to the body.

Effects on Nicotine

cigarette burning

Even small amounts of alcohol, less than is required to feel a “buzz”, can increase the pleasure someone gets when smoking a cigarette significantly.

This means that when someone is trying to quit smoking, they have been known to often fail when drinking alcohol and can even relapse fully into smoking again.

Both nicotine and alcohol are known to release dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the “happy” chemical in the brain, which increases someone’s enjoyment.

All of these effects together help to further explain why many people who don’t normally smoke will be seen with cigarettes after a couple of drinks.

Nicotine Offsets Alcohol’s Effects

cigarette ends

The connection between alcohol and smoking has been speculated for some time now, with many explanations over the years given for why people smoke more when drinking.

One such suggestion is that cigarettes have been known to offset the sedative effects of alcohol. The more alcohol someone drinks, the slower their reaction times become, and it impairs their vision. Some studies have found that nicotine can counteract these effects.

As nicotine is a stimulant, this helps in counteracting some of the negative effects of alcohol and can give people perceived increased perception and reaction time.

Dopamine Levels

Double-vision view of a taxi

As both alcohol and nicotine release endorphins into the brain, another theory is that it is this link that causes people to smoke more whilst drinking. By using both of these chemicals together, the feelings of pleasure will be increased, thus linking the two being used together to an increase in overall pleasure.

It has already been shown through other studies that regular dopamine increases linked to specific activities can cause one to become addicted to non-chemically addictive activities.

As the brain will link the increased pleasure with using both chemicals at the same time, this would cause the brain to want both of these more often to gain that pleasure again. This, linked with decreased inhibitions, can further cause more smoking whilst drinking.

The Neurobiological Link Between Alcohol and Tobacco Products

close up of mans face

Whilst it is known that there is a neurobiological relationship between alcohol and tobacco, there are conflicting ideas among scientists as to the exact link within the brain between the two chemicals.

Some research suggests that there is an increase in the brain receptors due to consuming alcohol, suggesting that by drinking alcohol, the brain becomes more receptive to nicotine, increasing the effects of nicotine on the brain.

Alternative research suggests quite the opposite, however. Alcohol is already known to reduce the ability of receptors in the brain to communicate properly, and researchers have suggested that this can cause the brain receptors that respond to nicotine to be dampened by drinking higher levels of alcohol.

One thing that both sides of the argument can agree on is the fact that there is a link between alcohol and nicotine, but further research would be needed to fully understand the exact chemical reaction happening within the brain.

Rewarding Effects

In one particular test that was carried out to determine a link between the two, some candidates were given placebo drinks, and some were given nicotine-free cigarettes.

Those who were drinking alcohol and smoking nicotine cigarettes found that smoking increased the rewarding effects of nicotine. They also confirmed that alcohol further enhanced the feeling of relaxation that comes with smoking.

It was also observed that those who smoked the nicotine-free cigarettes did not have the same response as those with the full nicotine cigarettes, suggesting that it is the nicotine that is the key chemical in this reaction.

Alcohol Addiction and Smoking

cigarette at edge of ashtray

It has been noticed from research that people who are alcoholics are more likely to be smokers, and those who smoke regularly are more likely to be binge drinkers. There are many arguments discussed as to why this is.

One argument that many agree on is that alcohol and smoking seem to complement each other, although the reason why this happens is still very much up for dispute.

Someone who is an alcoholic would be consuming higher levels of alcohol, so their inhibitions would generally be lower than that of a sober person.

This could cause them to be more nonchalant towards smoking, ignoring many of the health issues associated with it. As the smoke also gives a dopamine hit, it will help them to feel pleasure whilst drinking alcohol.

As you increase your tolerance when you drink more alcohol, cigarettes could be used to give an increase in the dopamine hit of an alcoholic, making their drinking more enjoyable.

Getting Support

Two people holding hands across a table

Talking to your local GP can be a great place to seek help, however difficult it may seem to begin with. Many people have been in the same situation, and your GP is there to help.

They can check your physical and mental health as well as put you in touch with the local support networks available, such as drug and alcohol services run by the NHS.

Using nicotine replacements can help to stop or reduce the amount you smoke. Many are available over the counter in pharmacies.

However, at Rehab 4 Alcoholism, we understand that every individual will require different levels and types of assistance.

This can range from a chat over the phone with one of our friendly and professional team members to the beginning of the admittance process to a dedicated rehabilitation centre.

To speak to someone today about taking the next step, give Rehab 4 Alcoholism a call at 0800 111 4108, where our addiction support hotline is available 24/7.


[1] Shiffman S, Balabanis M. Do Drinking, and Smoking Go Together? Alcohol Health Res World. 1996;20(2):107-110. PMID: 31798093; PMCID: PMC6876501.

[2] 2018

[3] Jed E. Rose, PhD, Lisa H. Brauer, PhD, Frederique M. Behm, B.S., Matthew Cramblett, M.A., Kevin Calkins, M.P.T., Dawn Lawhon, M.A., Psychopharmacological interactions between nicotine and ethanol, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Volume 6, Issue 1, February 2004, Pages 133–144,

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