Alcohol and tobacco are the two most prevalent substance used and they are also extremely difficult to quit. The fact that they are both legal means they can be found at practically every corner store in America.
Smoking cigarettes does not necessarily mean that an individual drinks alcohol, but alcohol and tobacco are the two most commonly mixed addictive substances. Research indicates that smokers have five to ten times greater risk of developing alcohol dependence than nonsmokers, Science Daily reports. A study conducted by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) found that exposure to nicotine promotes alcohol dependence.
The research showed a unique group of neurons became activated by the simultaneous use of alcohol and nicotine, leading to positive reinforcement for the continued use of alcohol and nicotine.
Earlier studies have shown that nicotine use gives positive reinforcement to keep smoking by activating “reward” neurons in the brain, according to the report. However, nicotine also activates “stress” neurons in the brain, giving negative reinforcement to continued use. Nicotine’s triggering of stress neurons causes users to crave alcohol for activating the reward system and calming the stress system.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said TSRI biologist Oliver George, a senior author of the new study. “Nicotine makes individuals crave alcohol to ‘reward’ the brain and reduce stress.”
The researchers finding could explain why it is difficult for smokers to quit drinking, and the other way around. It is worth pointing out that when alcohol and nicotine are used individually, the researchers did not observe the activation of the neurons activated by the mixture of the two substances. What’s more, the new study may open doors to the creation of new drugs that could block specific neurons.
“Now we can try to find compounds that will specifically inactivate those neurons,” said George.
The findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.