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The Impact of Smoking and Heavy Drinking on the Brain


Smoking and drinkingIf you are old enough to read this article, you probably know someone who consumes alcohol on a regular basis. In fact, statistics from the National Institutes of Health show that about 29 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported binge drinking in the last year. You probably know someone who smokes too, as nearly 20 percent of Americans do so. Maybe you even know someone smokes and drinks. If you know such a person and care enough, you should call this article to their attention. It may help to save them, as their cognitive function may be in danger.

Recent research has revealed that both smoking and drinking alcohol is combination is especially harmful to the cognitive function of the brain. These two behaviors are each known to be harmful to one’s health, but doing both in conjunction has now been proven to be a double whammy. A study conducted in the United Kingdom by Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reveals that smokers who drink heavily show a faster cognitive decline than people who don’t smoke and drink only moderately. In other words, that means the brains of people who do both slows down more quickly.

Researchers conducting this study examined smoking and drinking habits in subjects, as well as cognitive function. Over 4,600 men and 1,800 women were involved, and their ages ranged from 45 to 69 years old. The duration of the study was 10 years, and the cognitive function of the participants was assessed three times during that period.

People identified as heavy drinker-smokers suffered from a 36 percent faster cognitive decline compared to participants who were just moderate drinkers and didn’t smoke. In the drinker-smoker group, their brains aged the equivalent of 12 years for every 10 years of actual time.

For this study, moderate drinkers were defined as having 1-14 units per-week for women and 1-21 units per-week for men. Heavy drinkers were classified as women who drank more than 14 units per-week and men who drank more than 21 units per-week. In the United Kingdom, drinks are assessed by the alcohol content in the beverages and classified with units. The U.K.’s National Health Service says that women shouldn’t drink any more than 2-3 units per-day and men should limit their drinking to 3-4 units. For our understanding, researchers explained that one unit of alcohol is equivalent to about half of the standard drink in the U.S.

Dr. Hagger-Johnson comments on the findings, saying “Current advice is that smokers should stop or cut down, and people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking. Our study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy practices—particularly from mid-life onwards.”


Chan, Amanda L. “Smoking Plus Heavy Drinking Speed Cognitive Decline, Study Finds.” The Huffington Post, 11 July 2013. Web. 12 July 2013.

“How Many People Use Tobacco?” American Cancer Society, 8 July 2012. Web. 12 July 2013.

United States of America. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, n.d. Web. 12 July 2013.

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Kevin Giles is a product of Santa Cruz, CA – the stoner capitol of the world. A born again Christian, Kevin loves his Lord Jesus and believes that his purpose in life is determined by God. He first entered drug recovery at the age of 19, suffering from an addiction to marijuana. He is a recent graduate of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master’s degree in Christian Ministry. Passionate about God’s Word, he aspires to become a pastor or missionary. Kevin has also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from California State University, Monterey Bay. His interests include traveling, movies, golf, fitness and reading. He also enjoys being outdoors as well as spending time with friends and family. Kevin’s faith, education and life experience give him a unique perspective on addiction, recovery and spirituality.

Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Research · Tags: alcohol, cognitive function, men, smoking, women is operated by Recovery Brands LLC, a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, Inc.
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