Love smoking? It may be harder to give up alcohol addiction: Study

“Alcohol and tobacco are among the top causes of preventable deaths in the United States… People who are dependent on alcohol are three times more likely than those in the general population to be smokers, and people who are dependent on tobacco are four times more likely than the general population to be dependent on alcohol,” writes the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). While seeking treatment for one, it becomes imperative to simultaneously treat the other problem for long-lasting positive effects.

A team of researchers at Yale University has established that those undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse will find it difficult to give up drinking if they continue smoking during recovery periods. It has been observed that alcohol lovers emphasize that smoking helps them recover faster from alcohol addiction. The Yale research falsifies this claim by providing evidence to the contrary. The research team studied two groups of volunteers: the first group comprised 27 male and female alcoholics, and the other group consisted of 25 men and women not addicted to alcohol. Approximately, three-fifth participants in both groups were smokers.

As part of the analysis, all participants underwent brain scans to measure the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptors that are responsible to control an individual’s responses to stressful situations. The results of the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 revealed a strong connection between the levels of GABAA in those who continued to smoke during the recovery period as nicotine stimulates chemical production in the brain.

Smoking during alcohol recovery period heightens risk of relapse

The researchers analyzed data from the brain scans over a four-week period. As the treatment progressed and the participants reduced consumption of alcohol, there was an increase in the levels of GABAA among both smokers and non-smokers. It was established that:

  • Smokers and non-smokers reported a lower desire to consume alcohol.
  • In the case of non-smokers, the chemical levels returned to normal (when compared with the second group of participants). In the case of smokers, the chemical levels did not show much change from the initial levels.
  • Although there was a reduction in the craving for alcohol during treatment, smokers expressed almost double the desire to drink than participants who did not smoke.

An additional analysis was done on monkeys to determine how smoking impacts alcoholism. It was established that nicotine was not responsible for making it difficult to quit alcohol. It could be because a cigarette contains numerous chemicals besides nicotine, and the exact chemical causing change in how the neurotransmitter behaved has not yet been identified. Nonetheless, smoking while abstaining from alcohol increases relapse risk.

Smoking impedes recovery from alcohol-induced brain damage

In a previous study conducted in 2009, evidence was found that smoking makes it more difficult for brain function to fully recover from prolonged drinking activity. Alcohol addiction negatively impacts those parts of the brain which regulate aspects such as the ability to learn, short-term memory, emotional control and attention spans. By systematically and continuously abstaining from alcohol, it is possible to undo this damage to an extent but continuous smoking can hamper the brain’s response to treatment.

During the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the impact of smoking on brain recovery during abstinence from alcohol. In the initial week, no change was observed. After five weeks, it was established that individuals who continued smoking during treatment for alcohol addiction showed limited recovery of their brain functions. In the case of non-smokers, brain functions returned to normal levels at the end of the five-week period.

Results of past research on this subject have varied, but it has been proved beyond doubt that simultaneous consumption of alcohol and cigarettes has a debilitating effect on brain function and recovery. Besides smoking, other factors impacting recovery from alcohol addiction include age, food habits, physical activity and genes.

Road to sobriety

Addiction, if left untreated, can lead to devastating results. If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol or any other substance abuse, you can seek help from the Alcohol Addiction Get Help Helpline representatives to know about alcohol addiction treatment centers that give personalized care and support to help a patient recover completely. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-281-3014 or chat online with our representatives who can share details about the best alcohol addiction treatment centers in U.S.A.