By Brett Spiegel
A bad day at work or a fight with a friend are among the many triggers to light up a cigarette or down a cocktail for a little peace of mind. But it turns out that sparking a cigarette may actually be causing your brain to pine for alcohol, according to a new study published today in the journal Neuron.
Previous research notes that alcohol and nicotine individually stimulate the release of dopamine — a chemical responsible for reward-motivated behavior — in the brain, a finding that's gone long without explanation.
However, scientists at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas have now discovered that nicotine exposure in rats prior to drinking alcohol not only heightens subsequent alcoholic cravings and consumption but also minimizes alcohol-activated dopamine release.
"Our findings indicate the mechanisms by which nicotine influences the neural systems associated with alcohol abuse, providing a foundation for conceptualizing strategies aimed at diminishing the link between smoking and later alcohol abuse," said John Dani, PhD, senior study author and professor of neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine, in a press release.
Dr. Dani and his colleagues suggest that the desire to consume additional alcohol after nicotine exposure is a repercussion of the nicotine 's mobilization of stress hormone receptors that eventually elevate neural messages of inhibition, a discovery that may hold larger implications surrounding alcohol addiction.
"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," added Dani. "Therefore, greater vigilance is called for to prevent the initial exposure to nicotine and to follow those at risk ... our work suggests that stress hormones are candidate targets for prevention or treatment therapies."
"Puff, Puff, Chug, Chug: Smokin' Leads to Boozin'" originally appeared on Everyday Health.