Objective: Cigarette smokers are more likely to consume alcohol at higher levels and experience poorer response to treatment for alcohol problems than are nonsmokers. One previous study in university students suggests that a potential reason for the high overlap between alcohol and tobacco use is that concurrent smoking is associated with overvaluation of alcohol, as reflected in elevated behavioral economic demand. The present study sought to extend these initial findings in a community sample with heavier levels of alcohol and tobacco use.
Method: Participants were 111 non-treatment-seeking heavy drinkers(defined as 18+/14+ drinks per week for men/women) from a larger study on alcohol pharmacotherapy mechanisms. Forty-nine participants (44%) reported regular smoking (≥5 cigarettes/day). Participants completed a hypothetical alcohol purchase task assessing alcohol consumption at escalating levels of price. Covariates included demographics, drinking quantity, alcohol use disorder severity, depression, and delay discounting.
Results: In covariate-adjusted models, smokers reported significantly higher maximum alcohol expenditures (Omax) and breakpoint price (first price suppressing consumption to zero) compared with nonsmokers. Elevated alcohol demand correlated with drinking quantity and severity in the entire sample, but not with smoking frequency or nicotine dependence among smokers only.
Conclusions: This study offers further evidence of increased reinforcing value of alcohol among smokers in a sample of heavy drinkers from the community. Clinical implications and potential mechanisms underlying this relationship are discussed.