Addiction Stories: Buzz Aldrin’s Alcoholic Buzz and Recovery

In the whole of human history, only twelve lucky, and brave, men can claim to have walked on the surface of the moon. Buzz Aldrin is not only one of those twelve, but the second ever, a West Point graduate, PhD from MIT and Korean War fighter pilot whose accomplishments place him firmly at the forefront of great Americans.Still, for all his fame, success and vast intelligence, Buzz Aldrin had another title that put him on the same plane as millions of Americans: alcoholic.

At a recent talk at UCLA, Buzz Aldrin reflected on the painful (and all too common) series of personal tragedies and setbacks that put him on the path to addiction, foremost in his mind being the suicide of his mother. Though he now counts himself as a recovering addict and strong supporter of AA, to which he credits his recovery, the fact remains that for even this strong American icon, the lure of the bottle and its ability to temporarily numb the crippling pangs of clinical depression were for a long time too powerful to ignore. When it comes to inspiring addiction stories, it’s hard to find one as inspiring as that of Buzz Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin is far from the only addict struggling with depression

Depression is amazingly common among addicts, reaching levels as high as 80% in some addict populations (though it more commonly shows a still staggering 30-55% range). As compared to the standard population depression prevalence of about 7%, it becomes impossible to deny what might already be seen as a common sense conclusion: many, many addicts struggle mightily with depression. Because the causes of depression are so numerous, it’s understandably inexact to determine whether the condition precedes or is caused by addiction. Nevertheless, it’s clear that among active users, not using is linked with greater depression rates, but also that successful treatment often resolves both the substance use and depression issues. In fact, when it comes to a number of common antidepressants, their utility in treating addiction problems is often related to whether or not the patient has a separate depression issue – if they do, antidepressants often do a great job on both. But the bottom line is that depression, just as serious an issue as addiction in its own right, can combine with addiction to keep even a great American hero like Buzz Aldrin floating in the void.

As I’ve said numerous times here in relation to the addiction stories we share on All About Addiction, the point of sharing successes, and failures, related to addiction is to humanize, and de-stigmatize the typical vision of an alcoholic, or addict that people have. Addicts are all among us and they’re like every single one of us – They are lawyers, judges, politicians, and store owners. The addiction stories we share try to put a human face on the problem, a face full of hope.

Cigarettes, smoking, and drinking alcohol – The connection that may help you quit smoking

Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

It’s no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go hand in hand, but for most drinker-smokers, the reasons are probably a mystery. Does alcohol simply make people less able to control urges or is there something more direct about the connection between the two?

Alcohol reduces control over cravings

Smoking and drinking

A recent field study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors examined exactly this question using 74 smokers who recorded their daily experience in a journal. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with more frequent urges to smoke, signaling that indeed, drinking may increase the “want” while lowering the ability to control the cravings. However, the study also found that smokers reported greater satisfaction after smoking while they were drunk. Alcohol consumption predicted higher ratings of cigarette buzz, taste, and urge reduction after smoking.

Timing and context are important

Interestingly, the effects reported were only observed within the first hour after drinking, a period when alcohol content (BAC) is rising. (2)

Last but not least, situational factors seem to account for some of the effects of alcohol on smoking. Settings like bars and restaurants, where smoking and drinking were permitted, were associated with more frequent urges to smoke and greater satisfaction after smoking. Social settings, like being around drinkers and smokers, are also associated with increased urge and satisfaction.

How to quit smoking? Reduce, or stop, drinking

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, cutting down on drinking, at least in the initial phases of your quitting attempts, might be a good idea. It may reduce your cravings, and it may make you like the smoking a bit less while you’re quitting. If nothing else, it’ll get you out of situations where smoking occurs most often which will, by itself reduce your smoking.

Citations:

1. Henningfield, J. E., Chait, L. D., & Griffiths R. R. (1984) Effects of Ethanol on cigarette smoking by volunteers without histories of alcoholism, Psychopharmacology, 82, 1-5

2. Piasecki T.M., McCarthy D.E., Fiore M.C., & Baker T.B. (2008) Alcohol consumption, smoking urge, and the reinforcing effects of cigarettes: An ecological study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(2):230-9.