sealPurdue News

November 1996

Researchers: Alcohol physically increases urge to smoke

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University researchers have found evidence that may explain the phenomenon of the smoke-filled barroom.

In a study of regular smokers, the researchers found that consuming alcohol increased the physical craving to smoke. "We've long known that alcohol drinkers smoke more, but this is the first study that actually shows that alcohol physically drives up one's craving to smoke," says Stephen Tiffany, professor of psychological sciences.

Study subjects all were told they were drinking alcohol, but only half of them actually did. Those who consumed alcohol had an average 35 percent increase in their craving to smoke compared to those participants who received nonalcoholic drinks. Smoking cravings were measured both by questionnaires filled out by the participants and by physical data. "So the impact of the alcohol was pharmacological in nature, not due to their expectations," Tiffany says.

Tiffany says physical measures of craving used in this study were increased skin temperature and heart rate, and mood changes. He says other known indicators of craving include smoking faster and increased startle reaction.

"For smokers, alcohol may provide a double whammy," Tiffany says. That's because the alcohol both serves as a cue to smoke and it also may make it more difficult to resist smoking. He says smokers are highly practiced at their habit, and lighting up when they drink becomes automatic. "Now we know that once they start drinking, their craving to smoke also increases," Tiffany says.

All 60 participants in the study -- 30 males and 30 females -- were smokers and casual drinkers over the age of 21. They were brought into a lab on two different occasions. In the first session they were presented with cues to smoke, such as seeing cigarettes and watching others smoke. They were then asked to describe their urge to smoke, and electrodes were attached to them to measure physical data.

During the second session, all were told that they would be given vodka and tonic to drink. In reality, only half received drinks with alcohol. The rest received tonic water mixed with water poured out of a vodka bottle. Ice and lime juice were added to the drinks to disguise the flavor.

When those given alcohol became mildly intoxicated -- blood alcohol levels of .06 -- the subjects again received cues to trigger the urge to smoke. Analysis of their responses to the questionnaires and physical data showed that those participants who had been drinking alcohol had cravings significantly above those triggered only by smoking cues in the first session. Those persons who did not consume alcohol showed no similar increase in cravings.

"We did not find evidence that alcohol made people hypersensitive to smoking cues. Instead, consuming alcohol had an additive effect, acting to increase the intensity of the urge that was already present," Tiffany says.

The study has been accepted for publication in the British research journal Addiction.

Source: Stephen Tiffany, (765) 494-8509; e-mail,
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail;
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the 34-page research study are available from Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723.


The effects of alcohol consumption on craving to smoke

Susan M. Burton and Stephen T. Tiffany

This research investigated the effect of alcohol consumption on smoker's general levels of craving for cigarettes and their reactivity to smoking-related cues. Cue reactivity was evaluated across multiple trials of exposure to both imaginal and in vivo presentations of smoking and nonsmoking stimuli. On imagery trials, subjects imagined either smoking and nonsmoking scenarios; during in vivo trials subjects watched an experimenter either smoke a cigarette or drink water. Measures included self-reported craving to smoke and selected somatovisceral responses. Subjects (n=60) completed two sessions, the first examined cue reactivity in the absence of alcohol. In Session 2, subjects were told they were consuming alcohol, half received placebo and the other half given ethanol (.75ml/kg). Following beverage consumption, subjects were exposed to the cue manipulation. In both sessions, exposure to smoking stimuli enhanced craving in each presentation mode and increased skin conductance levels in the in vivo mode. Alcohol intoxication produced a generalized increase in craving but did not selectively enhance craving or physiological reactivity to smoking stimuli. The results are discussed in terms of models of craving and processes through which alcohol may influence craving to smoke.

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