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Why Smoking Makes Hangovers Worse

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Gearing up for a wild ‘n crazy night out? A New Year’s Day hangover might be a holiday tradition, but think twice before reaching for that pack of cigarettes while out on the town. New research shows smoking while drinking ups the ouch factor of hangovers. Before heading to that indulgent New Year’s soiree, read up on the double-trouble effects of boozing and lighting up.

What’s the Deal?

A new study at Brown University found people who dragged on a cigarette or two while downing libations were twice as likely to experience painful hangover symptoms than those who boozed without smoking [1]. Right now, the researchers don’t know exactly why puffing away at night can make the morning after to feel so wretched. Previous studies have linked nicotine receptors in the brain to the receptors for alcohol and fatty and sweet foods, backing up the idea that some people actually have “addictive personalities.” People who enjoy or are addicted to nicotine may therefore also tend to overindulge in alcohol.

Smokers also might be more likely to hug the porcelain throne in the morning because of the chemicals found in cigarettes. Nicotine can lead to the release of cytokines, chemicals that are released upon brain injury and result in the oh-so-pleasant headaches and nausea that make us swear we’ll never drink again.

During the study, 113 university-age men and women kept track of the previous night’s alcohol and tobacco ingestion and current hangover symptoms daily for eight weeks. The researchers found that the students who reported drinking six cans of beer and smoking had the worst hangovers in the morning.

Why It Matters

About 19 percent of the 45 million smokers in the United States don’t hit the cigs (or cigars or pipes) every day. These “social smokers” only light up once or twice a week, often at parties and on weekend “cheat days.” The combined effect of nicotine and alcohol causes a major spike of dopamine, the chemical that’s’ responsible for the warm-and-fuzzy feeling we get after a glass or two of bubbly — which helps explain the allure of social smoking. But adding cigarettes to the mix can also counteract the sedative side effects of alcohol, making partygoers more active and ready to hit the dance floor instead of passing out on the couch.

Most people know that cigarettes are unhealthy (thanks, after-school specials!), but social smokers may write off the harmful effects of tobacco because they partake so infrequently. Turns out, even smoking occasionally can slow down arterial responsiveness (aka how quickly and smoothly blood can move through arteries and veins) and lead to more serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. And the difference between a once-weekly cigarette and a full-blown nicotine habit is a much more slippery slope than most weekend smokers realize. Social smokers are less likely to want to quit smoking than established pack-a-day smokers, probably because they don’t perceive their occasional habit as a health threat [2].

Is It Legit?

While smoking can’t cause a hangover by itself, it’s one of the Russian Roulette of factors — including sleep deprivation, health status, genetics, food intake, and so on — that determines how gnarly a given Sunday morning will be [3]. Hopefully, awareness of the unpleasant effects of a combined alcohol-nicotine hangover will help convince some social smokers to kick the habit once and for all. 

Are you a social smoker? Do you think the threat of a bad hangover could convince people to give up smoking? Let us know what you think in the comments below or tweet the author at @SophBreene.

Works Cited +

  1. Role of tobacco smoking in hangover symptoms among university students. Jackson KM, Rohensow DJ, Piasecki TM, Howland J, Richardson AE. Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2013 Jan;74(1):41-9
  2. Social smoking among young adults: investigation of intentions and attempts to quit. Song AV, Ling PM, Psychological Sciences, School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, University of California, CA. Am J Public Health. 2011 Jul;101(7):1291-6.
  3. The pathology of alcohol hangover. Penning R, van Nuland M, Fliervoet LA, Olivier B, Verster JC. Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Division of Pharmacology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2010 Jun;3(2):68-75.

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