Smoking has always been regarded as a risk factor for posterior alcohol abuse but the underlying reasons for why is unknown. However, in the Cell Press journal Neuron on July 18, researchers are now reporting that a study conducted on rats show that even a single exposure to nicotine temporarily hinders how the brain’s reward system reacts to alcohol. The study also showed that there were changes that increased the reinforcing properties of alcohol through stress hormones.
Senior author Dr. John Dani from the Baylor College of medicine says their findings have indicated that the mechanisms in which nicotine influences the neural systems that are associated with alcohol abuse provide a foundation for conceptualizing strategies targeted at decreasing the link between smoking and further down the road alcohol abuse. The presence of the neurotransmitter dopamine can be boosted in regions of the brain that are involved with inducing pleasure, addiction and reward. In addition to the dopamine improving mood it can also dull the effects of stress which brings on the feeling of a good buzz. However, alcohol has been found to suppress the release of dopamine to the brain which causes some people to drink more to obtain a stronger buzz.
Greater measures are needed to help prevent the initial exposure to tobacco and nicotine for teens and those at risk. Teens typically experiment with nicotine when they are young and after being exposed to the drug their chance of experimenting with alcohol increases significantly. Additionally research has shown that stress hormones can be targeted to help prevent or treat nicotine addiction through therapy programs. It has also been revealed that smokers experience more severe hangovers than people who do not smoke. Chemicals have been found in tobacco smoke by scientists at Brown University in the United States that form in body tissue while people smoke and cause hangover symptoms.
In a test done on rats Dr. John Dani and his team discovered that rats exposed to nicotine frequently craved alcohol more often than other rats. The brains reward system in rats also responded less signals. The decreased reward response to alcohol was the result of a rise in inhibitory signaling in the brain and also initial activation of stress hormone receptors. Nicotine withdrawal also plays a role in alcohol abuse, as the anxiety and irritability from lack of nicotine can be temporarily cured with a few drinks.
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Cindy Nichols is the founder of 411 Intervention, a full-service intervention resource that helps individuals with addiction issues find treatment solutions. You can see an interview with Cindy here on Recovery Now TV.