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Nicotine Increases Alcohol Craving

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People who smoke and try to quit drinking have a more difficult time not relapsing, because new scientific evidence indicates that nicotine may actually cause a craving for alcohol. If you combine this factor with another new study which indicates that nicotine addiction may be as powerful as an addiction to heroin, smokers who want to stop drinking face an extremely difficult battle indeed.

Although many treatment programs and self-help support groups recommend addressing "one addiction at a time," treatment approaches that insist that clients give up all addictive substances simultaneously may be more effective, according to these new studies.

Alcohol-Nicotine Relationship

Led by Toronto's Dr. Dzung Anh Le, a study on rats by Canadian and U.S. scientists has found that nicotine use increases alcohol consumption, and the two addictions may work hand in hand.

The research relevant to humans who drink both excessively and moderately, said Dr. Le. It suggests that to quit drinking, a person might also have to give up smoking as well. "It has a lot of implications for treatment strategy," said Dr. Le, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "What we knew before is alcohol and tobacco are extensively co-abused. We wanted to find a biological basis for this co-dependency."

Dr. Ted Boadway of the Ontario Medical Association said although treating dual addictions is already a cornerstone of many therapies, anti-smoking strategies do not always emphasize curbing alcohol intake. Guidelines on stop-smoking approaches usually do not consider the effect alcohol may have on smokers. The study appears in the U.S. journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The Research

It is nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes, which leads to an increase in alcohol consumption, said Dr. Le and fellow researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "Of the study's five experiments on rats, three confirmed researchers' suspicions that nicotine and alcohol "can act through the same rewarding system in the brain," said Dr. Le.

Both nicotine and alcohol lead to the release of dopamine, the "feel-good brain chemical," although the mechanism by which this occurs is not completely understood, Dr. Le said. "Repeated exposure to nicotine through smoking can enhance the pleasurable effects of alcohol, and there's probably some biological basis for this," although it's not completely understood.

The remaining two experiments in Dr. Le's study examined nicotinic receptor antagonists in the brain, and whether they could be altered to block the effects of nicotine and alcohol.

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