University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Why Drinkers Smoke

Nicotine in cigarettes can promote alcohol consumption

Researchers have discovered what party-goers have known all along – smoking and drinking really do mix. Recent studies in laboratory rats show that nicotine in cigarettes can promote alcohol consumption. “We knew that many more alcoholics smoked than members of the general population,” says Dzung Lê of pharmacology and senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “But this is the first strong biological evidence showing how nicotine may stimulate alcohol consumption by using the same rewarding system in the brain.” After the rats in the study were trained to drink alcohol, some of them were injected with nicotine, and the nicotine-injected group drank substantially more. In a second experiment, researchers turned off the nicotine receptors in the brains of another alcohol-trained group. These rats lost their interest in alcohol and drank as much as 40 per cent less than those with active nicotine receptors. “Repeated exposure to nicotine through smoking can enhance the pleasurable effects of alcohol and there’s probably some biological basis for this,” Lê says. The study suggests therapists should begin treating problem drinking and smoking simultaneously.

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