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Nicotine vs. Alcohol: Long-Term Effects, Addiction, and More

It won’t be an overstatement to say that nicotine and alcohol are some of the most commonly abused substances on the face of planet Earth. Human beings have used them, mainly recreationally, for thousands of years. While they definitely have more differences than commonalities, one thing unites alcohol and nicotine: they’re both extremely addictive. 

However, even addictions to these substances are not equal. The long-term effects of both can be devastating, but in the case of one of them, they mainly depend on the primary ingestion method. In this article, we’ll go over these substances that had no small impact on the development of human culture, and try to answer the question: is one really that much worse than the other? 

Understanding Nicotine and Alcohol 

In order to fully comprehend the way both alcohol and nicotine impact our bodies, we need to take a look at these substances separately. In the sections below, we’ll briefly go over the primary consumption methods of both of them, as well as the ways in which they affect the human body. 

Nicotine 

The main addictive substance found predominantly in tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars, nicotine is a stimulant that mainly affects your central nervous system. When you inhale nicotine, it enters your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain, triggering the release of dopamine, the so-called “happiness chemical.” Nicotine release leads to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It is the primary mechanism behind nicotine addiction, which we will dive into in detail later on in this article. 

Methods of Nicotine Consumption 

For decades, the only way to get nicotine into your bloodstream was through tobacco products, mainly cigarettes. Smoking, as we all know by now, is associated with a myriad of negative long-term consequences, such as lung cancer (more on those below). Nowadays, with the rise of vaping and other ways to consume nicotine without tobacco, the reduced-harm aspect of these methods has become difficult to ignore. 

Alcohol 

Alcohol comes in various types, including beers, wines, liquors (like whiskey, rum, vodka), liqueurs, ciders, and more. It goes without saying that drinking is part of many cultural rituals, celebrations, and social norms. 

The main reason why people consume alcohol is because of its mind-altering effects. It makes us feel happier, more talkative, and lowers inhibitions, making it the “perfect” substance for social gatherings. But how exactly does it evoke these feelings in our bodies? 

As alcohol enters your bloodstream, the molecules of ethanol (its main intoxicating ingredient) get into your brain cells, affecting all areas of brain activity. How drunk you get depends on how much alcohol you consume and how fast you consume it. When drunk responsibly, alcoholic drinks make people feel chattier, less stressed, and more outgoing in general. 

However, excess drinking results in significant impairment of your motor functions, eliciting slurred speech or trouble with concentration and balance. Of course, even moderate intake affects your reaction time and reflexes, which is why drunk driving is so dangerous. 

Different Kinds of Alcoholic Drinks 

Not all drinks are created equal in terms of alcohol content. In general, beer contains about 4-6% alcohol by volume (ABV), wine ranges from 12-15% ABV, and distilled spirits (liquors) typically measure around 40% ABV or higher. Liqueurs can vary widely due to the mixing of spirits with other ingredients but typically fall between 15-30% ABV. 

These differences in alcohol content significantly impact how quickly a person might feel the effects of alcohol after consumption and how much they can drink before reaching a risky blood-alcohol level. Always keep this in mind when drinking in order to avoid excessive intake.

Alcohol vs. Nicotine Long-Term Health Effects 

It should go without saying that excessive consumption of any psychoactive substance, be it a stimulant or depressant, is not something anyone should pursue, especially in the long run. But what exactly are the long-term health effects of using nicotine and alcohol? The table below shows an overview of how these two substances affect our health after years of consumption. 

Nicotine

Alcohol 

Attention span issues 

Digestive problems and increased risk of liver disease 

Heart rate changes 

Permanent worsening of key cognitive functions

Increased anxiety levels when not using nicotine 

Depression

High blood pressure

Anaemia 

Addiction is a major risk of long-term consumption of both alcohol and nicotine. 

Nicotine vs. Alcohol Addiction: How Do They Differ? 

Long-term usage of both nicotine and alcohol can lead to addiction. Due to its immediate effects on the brain and interaction with our brain’s reward system, the development of nicotine addiction is much faster than getting addicted to alcohol. 

Nicotine users find themselves craving the alkaloid multiple times throughout the day, finding it difficult to concentrate or relax without it. As opposed to alcohol, nicotine doesn’t elicit any changes in a person’s state of mind or motor function. 

The speed at which one can get addicted to alcohol depends heavily on the individual. Some people are genetically predisposed to become addicted to drinking. Contrary to nicotine addiction, alcohol dependence can exhibit itself differently in different people. 

Most people associate alcoholism with the image of a person who’s lost all control of themselves and ruined their relationships and careers because of their addiction. Indeed, this happens all too often, but not all alcoholics are like that. 

Certain individuals can go weeks or even months without a single sip of an alcoholic beverage, but once they start drinking, they may go on a binge that lasts for days on end. Others yet are so-called “high functioning alcoholics,” meaning that they drink small amounts on a daily basis, but losing access to alcohol leads to a rapid onset of withdrawal symptoms. 

The Bottom Line 

Both nicotine and alcohol are addictive, legal substances with major abuse potential. However, while alcoholism can quite literally lead a person to the brink of financial and emotional ruin, the effects of nicotine dependence are more drawn out in time, and its most devastating health consequences are tightly related to the consumption method. 

With that being said, addiction is never good. If you’re struggling to quit your nicotine habit, NEAFS can help you with that. Our innovative, tobacco-free cigarette sticks, available in 1.5% and zero-nicotine variants, can help you steadily reduce your usage until you’re ready to leave nicotine behind for good. 

References 

  1. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/alcoholic-liver-disease 
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/alcohol-and-brain-overview
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6018192/ 
  4. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/alcohol-and-mental-health 
  5. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/nicotine-dependence 

 

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