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02-26 Nicotine: The smoking gun for compulsive alcohol use?

Nicotine: The smoking gun for compulsive alcohol use?

“Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics.”
– Fletcher Knebel, American author of political fiction

It’s true there may be more stats, studies and research on nicotine effects than any other addiction thus far, but knowledge is power, right? What was once touted as a stress reliever, social accessory and fashion statement is presently notorious for spurring all kinds of fatal health effects and signaling mental unrest. Now a new study proves that nicotine may also brew a cocktail for compulsive alcohol consumption.

The research

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) sought to discover why cigarette smokers have up to 10 times the risk of developing alcohol dependence as nonsmokers.

Test subjects were divided into two groups and exposed to alcohol alone and alcohol and nicotine, respectively. The group exposed to the substances concurrently developed alcohol dependence in a third of the time as the first group. More surprising: bitterness flavoring was added to the alcohol as a deterrent, but the group exposed to nicotine did not brake a bit – signifying compulsion.

This compulsion was instigated by nicotine, explains biologist Olivier George, a senior study author. He expounds that nicotine gives certain neurons positive reinforcement to keep smoking. This, while simultaneously activating “stress” neurons in the brain, leads users to crave alcohol to further reward one neurological system and drink to quell the stress of another.

“Interestingly, the combination of neurons activated by nicotine and alcohol together is different from the neurons activated by each substance on its own,” the study authors note, adding the interaction may explain why cigarette smokers who drink may have difficulty quitting both.

The new study’s alcohol compulsion component was added to previous TSRI research on the unique group of neurons activated by both substances. Study authors concluded the combination create a super substance of sorts: alcohol and nicotine together.

Teens, smoking and other substance use

The good news, according to the annual survey conducted by University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future research group, is that current cigarette use among teens is at a record low.

In rotation since 1975, the study has recorded the peak of teen cigarette use in 1997 and now the three-quarters plummet to just 7 percent of eighth, 10th and 12th graders.

The bad news is teen marijuana use has remained statistically consistent overall, and flavored e-cigarette use is on the rise, according to a review of the study by the Chicago Tribune.

The ugly news as it applies to teens is vanity may perhaps be superseding neurological addiction to the super substance. Aesthetically speaking, marijuana aroma doesn’t trail like a shadow on a sunny day the same way cigarettes do on clothes, hair and breath. E-cigs, powdered alcohol and vodka-soaked tampons that trend dangerously as of late are arguably evidence of society’s attempts to accommodate dependency rather than intentional abstinence from substance use.

For teens struggling with issues, Sovereign Health in Rancho San Diego is tailored toward rehabilitating 12-17 year olds who are entrenched in mental health disorders and addictions. We speak their language. Our versatile clinicians utilize up-to-date treatment modalities and alternative therapies to craft holistic wellness. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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