Coffee drinking, smoking common in AA members

Jul 22, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People recovering from alcoholism seem to drink more coffee and have a higher rate of smoking than the average American, a new study shows.

The researchers found that among 289 members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 88.5 percent regularly drank coffee, often in large amounts. One third of coffee drinkers said they downed more than four cups per day.

In addition, 57 percent of the group said that they smoked -- much higher than the general rate of 27 percent in Nashville, Tennessee, where the study was conducted.

The findings, published online by the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, help confirm a long-held belief that AA members have a particular fondness for coffee and cigarettes.

Coffee drinkers in the study most often said they relied on the beverage to wake up; smokers typically said the habit helped them deal with negative moods.

Exactly what is all means is not yet clear.

"Is there an association with whether they are able to stay in recovery?" researcher Dr. Peter R. Martin, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said in an interview.

He pointed out that coffee and tobacco both affect the brain, but while nicotine and alcohol act on the same "reward pathways" in the brain, caffeine operates differently.

It's possible that coffee drinking actually aids alcoholism recovery, while smoking might hinder it, according to Martin.

Although a majority of the AA members in this study smoked, nearly all drank coffee. So there seemed to be some "dissociation" between coffee and cigarettes, Martin explained.

In addition, he and his colleagues point out, the smoking rate of 57 percent among AA members is lower than the rate of 80 percent to 95 percent previous research has found among alcoholics -- suggesting that some people cut down or quit smoking during abstinence.

Coffee consumption, on the other hand, seems to remain high or to increase.

Martin said he and his colleagues are looking at whether changes in coffee or smoking habits are predictive of alcoholics' ability to stay in recovery.

SOURCE: ©Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, online July 18, October 2008.


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