Study Shows Concurrent Use of Alcohol, Cigarettes By Adolescents a Serious Public-Health Issue

By Kathleen Weaver

Release Date: February 16, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions have released results of a study showing that adolescents who use both alcohol and cigarettes are at increased risk of personal and social problems, poor grades in school, and delinquency, compared to adolescents who do not use both substances.

The study also found that adolescents who are concurrent users of alcohol and cigarettes have a risk of illicit drug use and drug problems that is greater than would be expected based only on their drinking and smoking separately.

The study, published in Addictive Behaviors, involved secondary analysis of data collected in three large statewide surveys of 7-12th graders conducted in New York State in 1983, 1990, and 1994 to compare characteristics of those adolescents who both smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol with students who did not.

The study was co-authored by Joseph H. Hoffman, a project director and statistician at RIA, and John W. Welte and Grace M. Barnes, RIA senior research scientists. It was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to Barnes, principal investigator, and Welte, co-principal investigator.

"The finding of a synergistic, or greater, effect of the combination of drinking and smoking on illicit drug use appears to be new," said Hoffman, the lead author.

"This means that the effect of concurrent use is greater than that due either to drinking or smoking alone. The analysis also showed that this synergistic effect remained constant over the time period of the three surveys."

The study found a significant co-occurrence of adolescent drinking and smoking in these surveys. The prevalence of concurrent drinking and smoking decreased from 1983 (23%) to 1990 (19%), and increased by 1994 (22%). This trend closely paralleled the trend in prevalence of current smoking over the same time points (25%, 20%, and 24%, respectively). In each survey, about one third of drinkers were current smokers, and almost all current smokers in each survey also drank alcohol.

The study also examined differences in the trends of concurrent use of alcohol and cigarettes in gender, age, and racial/ethnic groups. Hoffman explained, "between 1990 and 1994, we found that the prevalence of concurrent use of alcohol and cigarettes increased more among younger adolescents than among older adolescents, and also increased more among African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans than among European Americans. These increases raise a special concern for these groups of young people."

UB's Research Institute on Addictions currently is celebrating its 30th anniversary as an international leader in the study of alcohol and substance abuse.