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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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On Drinking, Smoking and Depression

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 6th 2008

 Alcohol and Depression:

Many of you may have read the news article about an animal study that found a causal link between ending drinking alcoholic beverages and the onset of depression. It's important because, among other things, it may help explain why there is a high rate of relapse among those who drink and provide an intervention to prevent that relapse. Of course, further research needs to be done before any final decisions can be made about this animal study and how it applies to humans.

The research was conducted at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. In addition to a link between ending drinking and depression among mice used in the study, the research also found that new nerve cells or neurons were not being produced in a part of the brain called the hippocampus that is important for learning and memory. This failure to produce new neurons was caused by moderate amounts of alcohol intake.

According to Dr. Clyde W. Hodge at UNC, those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol for health benefits may very well experience depression, as well as diminished cognitive abilities.

Dr. Hodge and others state that using anti depressant medications to help people during their withdrawal from alcohol may help prevent relapse.

On the bright side of things, the researchers found that the brain's ability to form new neurons is restored sometime after ending drinking.

Alcohol, smoking and coffee:

Studies done at Vanderbilt University found that 60% of those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous smoke cigarettes and most drink coffee. It is thought that coffee consumption is an attempt to overcome feelings of depression associated with withdrawal from alcohol.


Now, here is important information that could have a lot of importance for those who want to recover from alcohol use, even if the use is moderate. It seems that coffee consumption does not impact the parts of the brain that are influenced by alcohol use. However, nicotine and alcohol interact with each other especially because they each impact the same types of neurons and addictive pathways. Remember, nicotine is an extremely addictive drug found in cigarettes at very high concentrations.

What does this mean?

1. Those who smoke and want to stop their alcohol use for any reason, whether alcoholism, health concerns, depression etc, should stop their cigarette smoking. Reason? Continued smoking leads to relapse. Coffee consumption does not cause alcohol relapse.

2. It is those who are prone to depression who are most likely to feel symptoms of depression when they stop their alcohol use, even if that use is no more than two or three glasses of wine per day. Psychotherapy and anti depressant medications are recommended, at least temporarily, to get passed those initial phases of no longer drinking.

3. What we know from behavioral psychology is that cues in the environment can trigger behaviors. Because smokers often smoke cigarettes after or during drinking coffee, they should probably stop coffee consumption as a way to help themselves stop smoking. It is an interesting set of conditioned behaviors. Cigarette smoking can trigger drinking in those recovering from drinking alcohol.

4. Basically, the addictions need to be treated together because they are clearly part of a complex pattern.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

ahahah - - Sep 20th 2011

when i die it will be just because we all have matter what....


Drinking to Escape Reality? - KayaCamilla - Nov 4th 2009


With every glass of vodka that I drink, I forget bits and pieces of problems. With every bottle of beer I consume, tons of bad memories are temporarily erased. Every night in a bar or a friend’s house, drinking is but ordinary. When I am influenced by liquor or simply drunk, I feel very brave, and I can pour all my troubles. I can valiantly cry and I can boastfully laugh without any hesitation.

The dilemma is, am I losing myself every time I drink or am I just doing it to escape from reality? I love to socialize and that is for sure.  My peers drink, so I drink just as everyone. Am I that outspoken even when I am not drunk? I do. So should I drink in poor health and in debt? I still will, but of course not as much as before.



Nick O'Tine and Al K. Hall. - JR - Aug 7th 2008

Interesting, but hardly surprising.  When I finally gave up alcohol, I found myself - for no very clear reason - slipping back into a former bad habit of taking nasal snuff.  For anybody that has not come across it, this is a sort of dry, powdered tobacco that is inhaled into the lower nasal passages, rather than chewed.  I became (once again) a heavy snuff-taker, and am still finding it incredibly difficult to give up. 

Why ?  It is not clear that snuff-taking is bad for you, mainly because the practice is now relatively rare, and its possible effects have attracted little research.  (Mind you, both Napoleon Bonaparte and his father were heavy snuff-takers, and both appear to have died of nasty, chronic abdominal diseases, possibly of a cancerous nature - go figure !)  Nonetheless, the disgusting, messy quality of this practice, combined with the lack of any immediately obvious pleasure-response, should be sufficient reason to want to give up ... and yet, I am finding it very difficult to do so.  I don't know.  I suppose my Rational Recovery friends would say that it is my Beast/Lizard Brain Addiction Monster insisting on being fed Something, now that the booze has been withdrawn.  If alcohol and tobacco both push essentially the same button, this should not, as I say, come as a surprise.

Regarding tobacco, coffee and AA - well, it has to be said that the Fellowship has from the start been marinated in coffee, and shrouded from view by tobacco smoke.  The Founder, Bill Wilson, had an interesting attitude to these "commodities" - apparently, being addicted to these, rather than booze, was somehow exempt from his concept of "spiritual disease".  This attitude is illustrated by an anecdote in the (in my view disgraceful) chapter of the Big Book, "The Family Afterward" -

"Whether the family goes on a spiritual basis or not, the alcoholic member has to if he would recover.  The others must be convinced of his new status beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Seeing is believing to most families who have lived with a drinker.

Here is a case in point: One of our friends [Bill himself, actually] is a heavy smoker and coffee drinker.  There was no doubt he over-indulged.  Seeing this, and meaning to be helpful, his wife commenced to admonish him about it.  He admitted he was overdoing these things, but frankly said that he was not ready to stop.  His wife is one of those persons who really feels there is something rather sinful about these commodities, so she nagged, and her intolerance finally threw him into a fit of anger.  He got drunk.

Of course our friend was wrong - dead wrong.  He had to painfully admit that and mend his spiritual fences.  Though he is now a most effective member of Alcoholics Anonymous [remember, this is Bill W himself, actually], he still smokes and drinks coffee, but neither his wife nor anyone else stands in judgement.  She sees she was wrong to make a burning issue out of such a matter when his more serious ailments were being rapidly cured."

Hard indeed to follow Bill's strange reasoning here.  While the dangers of tobacco consumption were not as widely known when Bill wrote this as they now are, they were not completely unrecognised.  As for the question of whether tobacco addiction, like alcoholism, was a "spiritual disease", well, his contemporaries, the Nazis, had little difficulty in seeing it as a "sin" in terms of their "spiritual" social hygiene, and in campaigning against smoking accordingly.  What if Bill had decided that he simply "was not ready to stop" drinking ?  For good or ill, the world would have been a slightly diffierent place.

In any event, Bill continued to make a burning issue of tobacco, and eventually died of a severe congestive respiratory disorder.  Perhaps Smokers Anonymous might not have been such a bad idea after all ...

In any event - poor Lois Wilson !  She had a lot to put up with !

Best regards,


cigarettes vs. alcoholic drinks - abe - Aug 7th 2008

i know that cigarettes are addictive, but why don't we ever hear about alcohol addiction as much?

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