Alcohol abuse is very strongly related to smoking, but the patho-physiological pathway that connects the two were largely unknown until recent research conducted by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine on rats. The investigators identified, with the help of extensive experimentation, that even a single exposure to nicotine can temporarily alter the reward system of the brain to alcohol and other intoxicants. This promotes the reinforcing properties of alcohol that are mediated by stress hormones.
The results of this study are published in the Cell Press journal Neuron on July 18 2013.
The senior author of the study, Dr. John Dani, a renowned researcher from Baylor College of Medicine, explained the findings of his study:
“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.”
Details of the study:
While conducting experiments on rats by exposing them to nicotine and then to alcohol, Dr. Dani and his team observed that the nicotine-exposed rats drink alcohol more often than non-exposed rats. When the investigators studied the neurological pathways and signaling, it was observed that the brain signaling of the reward system was slow in nicotine exposed rats when they consumed alcohol.
Dani and his associates concluded that the depreciation in the reward response and brain signaling in response to alcohol may arise via two mechanisms.
– The activation of stress hormones.
– Potentiation of the inhibitory signaling in the brain.
These two primary mechanisms in turn increase the intake of alcohol in rats who were exposed to nicotine.
Dr. Dani further explained the pathway in these words:
“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. Therefore, greater vigilance is called for to prevent the initial exposure to nicotine and to follow those at risk. In addition, our work suggests that stress hormones are candidate targets for prevention or treatment therapies.”
The research team of Baylor College of Medicine concluded that nicotine influences the neuroendocrine systems to affect the behavior and neurotransmission associated with alcohol reinforcement.