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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 10:01 GMT
Nicotine induces alcohol craving

Smoking and drinking Tobacco and alcohol work together

Occasional smokers who claim they are only tempted by the demon weed when they have a drink may have got things the wrong way round, according to researchers.

Canadian scientists have found evidence that the nicotine in cigarettes can induce a craving for alcohol.

It's likely that nicotine and alcohol can act through the same rewarding system in the brain
Dr Dzung Anh Le, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, University of Toronto
Dr Dzung Anh Le and colleagues at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto said their findings add to a growing body of research that suggests alcohol and tobacco combine to act together on the body.

Dr Le said: "In the general population, about 25% of the people are smokers, yet in the alcoholics or heavy drinkers, the percentage of smokers is 90% to 95%.

"This study provides for a possible biological mechanism of why these two drugs are commonly co-abused."

The researchers, whose work is published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, carried out experiments in which rats given nicotine would voluntarily drink more alcohol when given a chance.

When the rats were given drugs to block the effect of nicotine they drank less alcohol.

Dr Le said: "We found that nicotine can indeed promote alcohol consumption.

"Furthermore, it's likely that nicotine and alcohol can act through the same rewarding system in the brain."

Both alcohol and nicotine are known to act on dopamine, an important chemical that carries messages around the brain.

They seem to give rats the same sort of pleasure they give humans.

In the Canadian study the rats were given access to alcohol for one hour a day, and some of them drank the equivalent of for to five standard measures.

Stephanie O'Malley, professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, issued a statement in which she said: "We knew that smoking was associated with heavy drinking.

"These findings suggest that in fact smoking may directly increase the amount of alcohol consumed."

Dr Le said his team now wants to see if alcoholics undergoing treatment are more likely to relapse if they smoke.

He said: "We are also looking at whether or not there is a common gene in determining susceptibility to alcohol and tobacco use."

"We need to better understand how these two drugs interact with one another. We need to better understand why these two drugs are co-abused, and to develop an effective treatment of that co-dependency."

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See also:
20 Apr 99 |  Health
Nicotine's stranglehold on the brain
01 Feb 00 |  Health
Why people topple after a tipple
08 Feb 00 |  Health
'Treat nicotine as a hard drug'
20 Oct 99 |  Health
Wine drinkers think positive
25 Jun 99 |  Health
Alcohol benefits debunked
25 Nov 99 |  Health
Grim toll of smoking
03 Nov 99 |  Health
Depressed smokers 'need drugs to quit'

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