The link between drinking alcohol and smoking has long been speculated upon as many people who drink often crave nicotine. Fresh research has shown a definitive link between the two.
Smoking and Drinking
Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas have been investigating the relationship between nicotine and alcohol use by examining chemical reactions in the human brain. Experiments carried out on rats, which share a similar genetic make-up to humans, have produced some surprising results.
The link between smoking and drinking was examined by exposing rats to nicotine before offering them alcohol. The Research found that nicotine boosts a rat’s interest in alcohol even up to 15 hours after exposure to nicotine. However, it takes just 90 minutes for nicotine to leave a rat’s body, meaning that nicotine alters the brain’s reaction to alcohol.
In humans, alcohol boosts dopamine levels in the brain’s pleasure centres causing a feeling of euphoria. However, it also dampens the ability of the brain to respond to the drug meaning it takes more alcohol to cause the same level of pleasure. The research also shows that nicotine increases this effect, so people that smoke need more alcohol to reach that same level of enjoyment than those who do not.
In short, stress hormones in the brain’s pleasure centre cause people to crave nicotine more when they drink alcohol and crave alcohol more when they smoke.
Nicotine, Alcohol and the Brain.
Dr John Dani, a researcher in the project said: “Our findings indicate the mechanisms by which nicotine influences the neural systems associated with alcohol abuse, providing a foundation for conceptualising strategies aimed at diminishing the link between smoking addiction and later alcohol abuse.
“Young people typically experiment with nicotine from tobacco in their teens, and that exposure possibly contributes to a greater vulnerability to alcohol abuse later in life.
“Therefore, greater vigilance is called for to prevent the initial exposure to nicotine and to follow those at risk. In addition, our work suggests that stress hormones are candidate targets for prevention or treatment therapies”.
From the research it suggests that smoking from a young age could actually increase the chances of an individual developing alcohol dependence in later life. Even a one-time exposure to nicotine can have a lasting effect on how the brain responds to alcohol.
The latest findings come after it was revealed that people who smoke suffer more severe hangovers than those who do not. Scientists at Brown University, in the USA, found that tobacco smoke contains chemicals that form in body tissue when people smoke causing more severe hangover symptoms.
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