Drinking and Marijuana Use Results in Increased Tobacco Consumption in Some Individuals

Desperate man sitting with bottle of alcohol and marijuana

A healthy lifestyle is always preferred over an unhealthy one. As we go through life, we try to be as healthy as we can. Those intentions are, of course, strongly affected by a wide variety of factors. These include socioeconomic condition, genetic endowment, upbringing, geographic location, peer environment, available resources, etc. Still, we do the best that we can with the resources available.

The prevailing notion is that we should be healthy and adopt and maintain healthy habits whenever possible. That's probably why so many people have been quitting tobacco use—a wholly unhealthy activity. Tobacco use in the United States has been on a gradual decline for quite some time.

Unfortunately, now there is new trouble on the horizon in our country's ongoing campaign for healthy, substance-free living. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shed light on a rather concerning issue. It pointed out the connection between depression, marijuana use, alcohol use, and tobacco relapse.

A New Study Indicates a Concerning Correlation

According to the study cited above, “Depression and substance use, which are factors associated with increased risk for cigarette use relapse, appear to be increasing over time among former U.S. smokers.”

The study got a fair amount of attention in the medical sphere, and understandably so. Following is a quote from an article by Robert Preidt, published at the website for the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center: "The researchers analyzed data from more than 67,000 former smokers in the United States, aged 18 and older, who took part in the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2005 and 2016. During that time, major depression increased from 4.9% to 6.1%, marijuana use during the previous year rose from 5.4% to 10.1%, and alcohol binge drinking during the previous month increased from 17.2% to 22.3%."

The fact that more ex-smokers are turning to marijuana and alcohol is of concern. There is dual harm here. One harmful factor is that there is a direct correlation between increased marijuana use and alcohol use and relapse back onto tobacco. Another harm is simply the nature of alcohol use and marijuana use by themselves, both of which have their own harmful effects.

The good news is that more people are quitting smoking than ever before. Between 2002 and 2016, the rate of smoking cessation increased from 44.4 percent to 50 percent. More people are quitting smoking and tobacco use in general, yet more ex-smokers are also struggling with depression, marijuana use, and alcohol use, all of which seem to precipitate tobacco relapse.

That tells us that we are making progress in reducing tobacco consumption, but not without some harmful increases in other areas. Though it is difficult to arrive at an answer or solution that would be workable for all cases, it would seem that a shift in treatment methods and preventative measures would be needed to ensure that ex-smokers are getting all of the care that they need. If ex-smokers were getting adequate care, they wouldn't feel compelled to use marijuana or alcohol. They're getting off of tobacco, which is good, but if they're still struggling with issues that inevitably lead them to marijuana or alcohol as a coping mechanism, something is lacking.

Cannabis, Alcohol, and Tobacco – A Look at the Statistics

Joint and alcohol laying on the table.

We cannot prove that the use of alcohol or marijuana by ex-smokers has a direct influence on relapse. We can, however, indicate that alcohol and marijuana use statistics among ex-smokers are on their way up. These factors are often present when an ex-smoker goes back to cigarettes or some other form of tobacco use.

If we take a cursory look at the harm caused by marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, we get an idea of why this is something to be concerned about.

  • A somewhat dated, yet still relevant article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that about 22 million Americans use marijuana regularly. Use of the drug (sometimes in tandem with other drugs) results in a little over half a million ER visits each year.
  • For alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 15 million Americans struggle with alcohol misuse, and about 88,000 people die every year because of it. Another point worthy of mention with alcohol is that many other people who do not misuse alcohol are still harmed by it every year because of, for example, drunk driving or alcohol-induced rage and violence.
  • As for tobacco and cigarettes, the CDC says it best: "Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. In addition, smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion a year, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $156 billion in lost productivity."

Marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco are the three most commonly used substances in the U.S., and now there's a connection between the three. Rather than arguing over legality, which substance is worse, which substance is addictive and which one isn't, wouldn't it be better if ex-smokers didn't use any of them?

Freedom from All Addictive Substances

In a perfect world, not only would ex-smokers abstain from marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, but all of the rest of us would too. These are three substances that have minimal if any medical benefits. On top of that, these three substances have proven harms and dangers connected to them. Ideally, we'd all stay away from them.

If you know an ex-smoker who is struggling with marijuana or alcohol misuse, you should do your best to get them help via a drug and alcohol rehab center. Such programs offer tools, support, assistance, treatments, guidance, education, coping strategies, relapse prevention, one-on-one care, and a wealth of other services that assist people in overcoming not only their substance misuse habits but also the underlying reasons that caused those habits to come about in the first place.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.