While it's summer cocktail season, a new study finds that smoking can prime the desire to drink more alcohol -- and to keep on drinking. And why this happens may be linked to stress hormones.
The study, published in the journal Neuron, could help explain why alcoholism is about 10 times more prevalent in smokers than in non-smokers.
Drinking alcohol can boost the presence of the neurotransmitter dopamine in regions of the brain involved in drives such as pleasure, reward, and addiction. While this flood of dopamine can bring on an improved mood, it also dulls the effects of stress, bringing on that familiar feeling of being buzzed.
In rat studies, a research team from Baylor College of Medicine in the US has found that nicotine, however, can upset the response. When this part of the brain is bathed in stress hormones and you add nicotine, alcohol actually suppresses the flood of dopamine to the brain -- so, this causes some people to drink more in order to attain a feel-good buzz.
"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," says senior author Dr. John Dani.