DISCLAIMER: This article isn’t meant to promote smoking in any form.
If you’ve ever been out drinking at a bar or club, I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed quite a number of people clutching their drink in one hand and a cigarette (or vape) in the other.
Additionally, I’m also certain that many of you have tried, or felt the need to smoke after having a few drinks even if you’ve never smoked at all. As a smoker myself, I’ve always wondered why the need to light one up arises when drinking and why it always feels so good to me.
The answer to that question lies within how our brains function when certain psychoactive substances (eg: alcohol, nicotine) containing specific chemical compounds reach it. Oh yeah, and good ol’ peer pressure. Let’s break it down a little further.
Alcohol and nicotine are both stimulants which have the ability to cause changes to our mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Moreover, they will always raise dopamine (neurotransmitter that makes us feel happiness/pleasure) levels in the brain when consumed.
Alcohol + Cigarettes = ∞ Dopamine
Ok, maybe not an infinite amount of dopamine but certainly a whole lot more than when we’re sober or consuming something more ordinary like food or sodas, both of which also raise dopamine levels, but nowhere near as much as alcohol, cigarettes or both combined.
What many don’t realise is that once your brain’s had a taste of that dopamine rush from either substance, it remembers the feeling you felt (fun, pleasure) and craves it again when you don’t have those substances.
Essentially, the more you do something pleasurable like drinking or smoking, the more you’d feel the need to repeat those actions because of the pleasant memories linked to them.
More Is Less, Less Becomes More
Now that we’ve established the effects of psychoactive substances on the brain, let’s give an answer to why we tend to smoke more (or at all) while drinking. When alcohol and nicotine mix, they strangely counteract and complement each other at the same time.
When you light up a Dunhill or take a puff of your Relx pod to ‘keep the drinks down’, you decrease the dopamine intake your brain is normally used to when drinking alcohol on its own – which is what leads to more drinking and more smoking.
Basically, you’d be taking your body and brain on a ferris wheel of pleasure meaning that you’ll feel really good but that feeling eventually fades away so you fall into a cycle of drinking and smoking ’til you, or a friend, thinks you’ve had enough for the night.
What Are Friends For?
Remember how I mentioned peer pressure earlier? Thankfully, unlike the effects of mixing alcohol and nicotine on our brains, understanding the effects of peer pressure is pretty straightforward.
Imagine you’re with a large group of friends drinking at a club. All of a sudden, one of them realises that you look a little too drunk to function and offers you a cigarette. Keep in mind, an excess of alcohol impairs our judgement – so you ask them to light you one up.
Once you take that drag, voilà! You’ve just introduced some good ol’ nicotine into your system. Or take this second scenario where instead of being too drunk, you’re feeling good but notice that 2/3 of your friends all have cigarettes lit up with their drinks in hand.
As you observe them smoking and drinking, you start to get curious of how cigarettes taste having being surrounded by it so you ask for one and it strangely feels good – so you continue bumping cigs for the remainder of your drinking session.
Hopefully that wasn’t too long-winded and you finally have some clue as to why drinking and smoking goes so well (or badly) together. Remember, this article isn’t meant to promote smoking in any form but if the nicotine fairy’s got you under her spell, I feel your pain.
- FUN FACT: Smoking a bunch of cigarettes when drinking will likely increase your chances of getting a hangover the day after.
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