Smoking and Alcohol

Doctors and scientists have found a strong link between teen smoking and teen alcohol use. Though the reasons are still unclear, statistics show that teens who smoke are more likely to use alcohol and engage in other dangerous behaviors. Learn more about smoking and alcohol.

Teen smoking and teen alcohol use have declined in recent years, but far too many teens still smoke and drink alcohol, with serious impacts on their health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about a quarter of high school seniors smoke, and almost half are regular alcohol users. In fact, there seems to be a strong connection between smoking and alcohol among teens, with teens who smoke being much more likely than non-smokers to use alcohol. Statistics from several studies and surveys clearly demonstrate this connection between teen smoking and alcohol.

A study by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, reported by Reuters and WebMD Health News, found that:

  • 59 percent of teens who smoke also drink alcohol, compared to 11 percent of non-smoking teens who do use alcohol
  • 31 percent of teens who begin smoking by age 12 also binge drink alcohol, compared to 9 percent of teens who do not start smoking early and binge drink
  • 26 percent of teen smokers have a drug abuse or dependence problem, compared to 2 percent of non-smoking teens
  • In addition, teen smokers are 17 times more likely to use marijuana, and 7 times more likely to use other illegal drugs
  • The younger a teen is when they begin smoking, the more danger there is for alcohol abuse, drug addiction, depression, and other mental and physical health problems

The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids also compiled its own statistics on smoking and alcohol use, which showed:

  • Teens who smoke are 3 times more likely to use alcohol than teens who don't smoke
  • People who smoke are 10 times more likely to have an alcohol addiction than people who don't smoke
  • 70 percent or more of people with an alcohol addiction also smoke
  • The connection between tobacco and alcohol is not limited to smoking; smokeless tobacco users are 16 times more likely to use alcohol on a regular basis than non-tobacco users

What these studies are not able to determine is why there is such a strong connection between teen smoking and alcohol use. They do offer several theories:

  • Smoking is known to alter the way a teen's mind works, and may increase a teen's vulnerability to and craving for alcohol and other drugs, increasing the risk of addiction
  • Smoking harms the teen mind and causes depression and other mental health problems like anxiety and panic disorders, which can lead to alcohol use
  • Teens who engage in one risky behavior, like smoking, may have a personality or mental health problems that makes them more likely to engage in other risky behaviors like using alcohol

Whatever the reason for the connection between smoking and alcohol, it is important for parents to talk to teens early and often about avoiding drugs and alcohol, including tobacco in all it forms. They can also set a good example by not using tobacco or alcohol in front of their teens, and by trying to quit smoking themselves.

If teens are smoking or using other forms of tobacco, parents should be aware of their increased risk for abusing alcohol or drugs. Parents can seek help for their teen who smokes, drinks, or uses drugs from a doctor or other health care professional, including community health departments.


Will Dunham, Reuters, "Smoking linked to teen alcohol, drug use: US study" [online]
Salynn Boyles, WebMD Health News, "Report links teen smoking, depression" [online]
The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, "Smoking and Other Drug Use" [online]
Eve Bender, American Psychiatric Association, Psychiatric News, "Trends in Teen Drinking, Smoking Continue Gradual Decline" [online]
U. S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, "Smoking and Youth" [online]

Related Article: Teen Smoking Statistics >>