Heavy drinkers more likely to also smoke, UK research

June 13, 2022
Heavy drinkers more likely to also smoke, UK research

University College London (UCL) researchers conducting a survey involving over 144,500 people in England found that smoking prevalence and dependency correlated with alcohol consumption: the more a person drank, the more likely it was that they smoked, and vice versa. The researchers said that 58% of people at risk of becoming alcohol dependent were current smokers, compared to just 15% among the general population.

“Tobacco and alcohol are the two most commonly used substances in England, yet we have relatively little evidence about how they are used together. Our study is the first to demonstrate the scale of their co-use,” explained Dr. Claire Garnett of UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care.

UCL researchers had looked at responses to a monthly population survey in England known as the Smoking and Alcohol Toolkit Study. Here, participants were assessed for alcohol dependence based on their responses to the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). The test includes questions such as how often respondents had failed to do what was normally expected of them because of drinking.

Respondents who had the highest score were considered most at risk, and were also England’s heaviest drinkers – these respondents had the highest smoking prevalence (76% were current smokers, and 81% were past-year smokers).

In addition, UCL researchers noticed that smokers who were at risk of alcohol dependence also smoked more cigarettes in a day: about 30% of people in this group started smoking within five minutes of waking, compared to 13% of smokers who drank alcohol but were not at risk of dependence, and 17% of non-drinkers. Smokers at risk of alcohol dependence smoked 14 cigarettes a day on average, compared to 11.5 among non-drinkers and 10.9 among drinkers not at risk.

As smoking and drinking often happen in tandem, the researchers suggest the government prioritise people at risk of alcohol dependency who smoked in its plans to achieve “smoke-free” status in England by 2030, which has an adult smoking prevalence of 5% or less.

“To get close to a ‘smoke-free’ England in 2030, the government needs to target groups where smoking is highly prevalent,” said Dr. Garnett. “Our study strongly suggests that those who are among the heaviest drinkers in England, who are risk of becoming dependent on alcohol, should receive targeted smoking cessation support.”

Category: Education, Features

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