July 25, 2008

Study suggests coffee may help alcoholics quit

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Peter Martin, M.D., right, and Michael Reich are studying coffee and cigarette use among recovering alcoholics. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Study suggests coffee may help alcoholics quit

Not all recovering alcoholics smoke cigarettes, but almost all of them drink coffee, according to a new Vanderbilt study suggesting that healthy consumatory behaviors could help addicts kick their habit.

“Coffee and Cigarette Consumption and Perceived Effects in Recovering Alcoholics Participating in Alcoholics Anonymous in Nashville, TN” is being released today at OnlineEarly and will be featured in the October print issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER).

Study co-author Peter Martin, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Division of Addiction Medicine, said Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) participants are reportedly notorious for their coffee drinking and cigarette smoking, but very little research has quantified their consumption of these two products.

His study confirmed that coffee and cigarette use among AA members is greater than among the general U.S. population, but reasons for that statistic could be linked to various factors.

“Is this behavior simply a way to bond or connect in AA meetings, analogous to the peace pipe among North American Indians, or do constituents of these natural compounds result in pharmacological actions that affect the brain?” Martin asked.

“Perhaps most interesting is how do these consumatory behaviors affect the brain and what is their role in recovery?”

Martin and colleagues asked 289 participants in all open AA meetings during the summer of 2007 in Nashville to self-report a variety of information related to coffee, cigarette and alcohol consumption. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student and study co-author Michael Reich developed the questionnaire and conducted the research as part of VUSM's Emphasis Program.

Results indicated that a greater proportion of AA participants drink coffee (88.5 percent) than smoke cigarettes (56.9 percent).

“If coffee is beneficial to health, and cigarettes are harmful to health, AA members seem to be going in the right direction by reducing smoking and perhaps increasing their coffee drinking,” Martin said.

One-third of the coffee drinkers reported having more than four cups per days, citing its stimulatory effects as a major reason. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents who smoke reported at least a half of a pack per day habit, with the majority of those persons labeling their addiction as “highly” or “very highly” dependent.

Study authors are now working on more detailed analyses of the results to examine whether changes in coffee and cigarette use are predictive of recovery from alcoholism.

“This is very important indeed in this era of attempting to develop medications that may enhance recovery by diminishing craving and relapse to alcoholism,” Martin said. “In fact, there may be very useful lessons to be derived by the pharmaceutical industry from the observations in this research.”

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In addition to Reich, co-authors of this study include A.J. Reid Finlayson, M.D., in the Vanderbilt Addiction Center in the Department of Psychiatry; Mary Dietrich, Ph.D., in the Department of Biostatistics at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; and Edward Fischer, Ph.D., in the Department of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University.