What Are the Health Risks of Smoking vs. Alcohol Drinking?

Compared to other drugs and substances, alcohol and cigarettes are easier to abuse since they are both legally available. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are responsible for widespread long-term physical illness, addiction, and other psychological harm.

Alcohol vs. Cigarettes

Comparing the harm of smoking and drinking is difficult because many factors influence the health and psychosocial effects the substance has on an individual. These can include age, weight, stress, use of prescription drugs and other substances, genetics, and family history.

One thing that can be said for sure is that drinking in moderation does not necessarily cause long-term harm. Whereas tobacco use or exposure in any quantity is harmful to the body and several vital systems such as the respiratory system. Long-term smoking has been linked to diseases such as lung cancers and cardiovascular problems.

Though this implies that alcohol may have fewer health risks compared to cigarettes, the distinction between moderate drinking and harmful drinking is not always clear. It can be very easy to fall into problematic patterns of drinking when one believes their drinking is moderate when, in fact, it is excessive. Excessive drinking is linked to cancers including breast, liver, and colon cancer as well as liver cirrhosis and social problems such as domestic violence.

Health Risks of Drinking

The United States’ focus on the control of illicit drugs has seemingly brushed aside the dangers and risks of drinking alcohol, which are numerous. As a result, alcohol abuse is the most significant drug abuse problem in the country. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is the third-leading cause of death. This is due in part to how alcohol can impair one’s judgement, decision-making, and coordination, leading to preventable death. As a direct result of alcohol use, people may put themselves at risk for deadly accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, or other bodily harm.

Alcohol abuse also increases the risk of psychosocial problems including failure to fulfill obligations, marital and relationship discord, legal problems, along with the physical and psychological effects of addiction. Withdrawal associated with addiction can cause many unpleasant symptoms including nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and anxiety.

Health Risks of Smoking

Since the risks of cigarette smoking have been well-documented and been the subject of various anti-smoking campaigns, particularly those targeted to teenagers, the use of cigarettes has declined. In the 1960s almost half the population smoked cigarettes. Bans on cigarette smoking in public places have also reduced the effects of secondhand smoke on bystanders.

The prevalence of cigarette smoking has dropped significantly over the years as a result of these policy changes highlighting the dangers associated with it. As of 2019, only about 14% of Americans smoked cigarettes. Smokers face higher risks of severe illnesses such as lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, hypertension and chronic respiratory illness. Compared to non-smokers, smokers also have a greater risk of dying from heart attack and lung, throat, bladder, mouth, or esophagus cancer.

Chemicals in Cigarettes

Unlike alcohol, cigarettes create the potential for addiction without having a psychoactive effect - in other words, without affecting mood, perception, or consciousness. Addictive chemicals in cigarettes like nicotine are the reason for its habit-forming quality. Nicotine reaches the brain in mere seconds, creating an instant rewarding sensation that makes the user crave more of the substance.

In addition to nicotine, cigarettes contain thousands of other chemicals, many of which are deadly or damaging. For instance, acetone can damage the nose, throat, and some organs when exposed at high quantities. Other harmful substances may cause cancer or liver damage and are used to improve the delivery of nicotine, mask the odor, or otherwise enhance the smoking experience. Nearly always, this is at the detriment of the user.

Smoking Deaths and Financial Losses

Compared to alcohol which is the third leading cause of preventable death, smoking is the first. Cigarettes contain cancer-causing and other harmful chemicals that can lead to the development of cancers, respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, weakened immune systems, and tuberculosis. Each of these carries significant risk of death on a long-term basis.

A WHO study estimated that annual deaths due to smoking would rise to about 8 million per year by 2030, up from 6 million per year now. These deaths also have a financial toll on the global economy, totaling $1 trillion per year.

What Are the Causes of Cigarette Addiction vs. Drinking?

The incidence of smoking is strongly linked to learned behavior. Children raised in smoking households are more likely to smoke themselves. Young people are also easily swayed by the way tobacco is portrayed favorably in ads, movies, or TV shows. The association of smoking to glamorous stars or likable characters can be a powerful force. As a result, the government has placed some restrictions on how cigarettes can be advertised, requiring prominent health warnings.

Smokers have also self-reported that they smoke because it’s not as stigmatized to smoke cigarettes as it is to do other illicit drugs. Others report using cigarettes as a form of stress relief or because it makes them feel more comfortable in social situations. In many cases, when coworkers or friends smoke, smoking becomes more acceptable and desirable.

Alcohol Abuse: Psychological and Social Harm

Though cigarettes are inarguably deadly, alcohol addiction has other negative effects that can destroy lives even before it leads to death. Problematic drinking can lead to ruined relationships, friendships, lost jobs, and a low sense of self-worth. This downward spiral pattern is not usually an issue with tobacco users, making alcohol appear deceptively safer.

Despite the number of anti-smoking campaigns and policies targeting tobacco companies, alcohol is largely unregulated. In fact, alcohol advertisements have actually increased over the last several decades. Alcohol is often presented as something that facilitates social interaction and enhances a good time. The darker side of that perception, that which is caused by long-term alcohol abuse, is not often addressed.

Binge Drinking

People most often perceive alcoholism or alcohol addiction to be problematic. However, other seemingly harmless patterns of drinking, such as binge drinking, can lead to lasting negative effects. Binge drinking occurs when a person’s blood alcohol content increases to 0.08 or above. This happens when a person consumes 4-5 drinks in a two hour time period.

Binge drinking is especially common among young people aged 18-34, many of whom are in college, where binge drinking is not only popular but often encouraged. Binge drinking is associated with long-term illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease, cancers of the colon, mouth, throat, esophagus, and liver, and fetal alcohol syndrome. In addition to long-term effects, the stupor caused by excessive drinking can lead to accidents, alcohol poisoning, violence or suicide, and sexually transmitted diseases as a result of risky behavior.

Social Smoking and Drinking
Both smoking and drinking are behaviors that sometimes increase in social situations. Even though the rate of smoking has decreased over the years, many people report enjoying a cigarette socially when they’re in the company of other people. This is also often the case with drinking. In fact, in social situations, the two may go hand in hand. A study found that the stimulant effects of nicotine may help offset the depressant effects of alcohol, which may make a drinker sleepy or tired. Nicotine may also enhance the desirable effects of alcohol, leading to more use of both substances.
Alcoholism Recovery

Both smoking and drinking may significantly impair quality of life, either in the present or due to long-term illness in the future. If tobacco or alcohol use has begun to negatively affect your life, you shouldn’t be afraid to seek help. Health outcomes and life expectancy improve for people who quit smoking at any age. Quitting smoking significantly reduces the risk of cancers and cardiovascular disease. Quitting alcohol can also help improve your health outlook, preventing chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis.

An addiction treatment program can target one or both these addictions together to help you regain control of your life without the detrimental effects of alcohol and tobacco. Programs are designed to treat the physical symptoms of addiction as well as improve mental health functioning to prevent relapse.

Cigarettes Vs alcohol FAQs

Recovery at Riverwalk Ranch
A Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area Addiction Treatment Center

Smoking and alcohol addiction can have a destructive effect on individuals and their family, but Riverwalk Ranch can help. Using established and research-based therapies, our addiction professionals are well-equipped to treat your individual or co-occurring vices. Emphasizing the individual, clinicians tailor addiction treatment to your needs with the aim of achieving recovery from addiction and other co-occurring disorders.

If your use of cigarettes or alcohol is having a detrimental effect on your life, contact us today at (877) 863-3869 to see how we can help. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our treatment center provides a therapeutic environment with comfortable amenities to put you in the right frame of mind to overcome addiction. Whether you’re in Texas or you want to get away from your home environment for treatment, our center can help you achieve the healthy and substance-free lifestyle you seek.

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