Many Recovering Alcoholics Depend on Coffee, Cigarettes

ByABC News
July 18, 2008, 5:25 PM

July 19 -- FRIDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Of the more than 1 million Americans who join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), almost all drink coffee and close to 60 percent smoke, Vanderbilt University researchers report.

Most recovering alcoholics drink coffee for its stimulatory effects, and smoking reduces feelings of depression, anxiety and irritability, the researchers noted.

"Normally, coffee drinking and cigarette smoking go together," said lead researcher Dr. Peter R. Martin, director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. "But recovering alcoholics tend to smoke less than drink coffee."

About 90 percent drink coffee, but only about 60 percent smoke cigarettes, Martin said. "That's interesting disassociation between the two behaviors," he said.

The report is published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In the study, Martin's team asked 289 AA members about their coffee and cigarette and alcohol consumption.

Of the 88.5 percent who drank coffee, 33 percent drank more than four cups a day. Most reported drinking coffee did make them feel better and helped them concentrate and be more alert.

Of the AA members, 56.9 percent smoked. Among smokers, 78.7 percent smoked at least half a pack a day and more than 60 percent considered themselves highly dependent on cigarettes.

The benefits of smoking were the reduction of negative feelings, including depression and anxiety and irritability. These feelings were likely to contribute to new bouts of drinking, Martin said.

The remaining question is whether drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes plays a role in recovering from alcoholism, Martin said. "Is there something in coffee that may be protective against relapse? Is there something in cigarettes that may actually reduce the likelihood of relapse?" he asked.

Selena Bartlett, the Sidney R. Baer Jr. Foundation Investigator at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center of the University of California, San Francisco, thinks that the reliance on cigarettes by most recovering alcoholics has a biological basis and may actually increase the chances of relapse.