Newswise — People who are dependent on alcohol are also likely to smoke cigarettes. Many experts believe that it's important to counsel alcohol-dependent individuals to give up smoking as well as drinking—not just to improve their health, but also to increase their chances of staying sober, reports the June 2008 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

It is a common worry that trying to quit smoking and drinking at the same time will undermine treatment for alcohol dependence. However, most studies have reported that efforts to quit smoking either have no impact on maintaining sobriety or actually increase success of alcohol treatment.

There are no smoking cessation guidelines specifically for alcohol-dependent adults. For now, the best option is to follow the federal guidelines for treating tobacco dependence, which recommend a combination of counseling and medication.

A major and still unresolved question is whether it's better to give up smoking and drinking together, or whether it's better to tackle one addiction at a time. Researchers have found that when smoking cessation support was delayed by six months, study participants were more likely to remain sober compared with those who received concurrent treatment for both addictions. But a follow-up analysis found that this may have been true only for white people in the study.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, notes that no single approach is best for every person struggling with both alcohol and nicotine addiction. Whether an individual quits smoking during alcohol treatment or later, it's a net health gain.

Also in this issue:"¢ Improving outcomes in bipolar disorder"¢ Psychotherapy and medication for panic disorder"¢ Family meals and eating disorders"¢ Stimulants, ADHD, and substance abuse"¢ Handguns and health

The Harvard Mental Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $59 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).