Sunday, January 21, 2007

Smokers Drink More

It’s no secret that smoking and drinking go together like salt and pepper. No comes further evidence that smoking helps drinkers hold more liquor. Put simply, “Cigarette smoking appears to promote the consumption of alcohol,” says Wei-Jeun Chen of the Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Nicotine seems to slow the movement of alcohol through the intestines, leaving more alcohol molecules backed up and metabolised before reaching the bloodstream by means of intestinal absorption. In animal studies, in which rats were given stomache injections of alcohol and nicotine, clinicians found that “smoking” rats exhibited lower blood-alcohol levels than rats given the same amount of alcohol without the addiction of nicotine.

Dr. David Ball of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, told BBC news: This is a really interesting study. I’m surprised nobody has done it before.”

Chen, an associate professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M College of Medicine, stressed that the results of such “cross tolerance” between alcohol and nicotine could be to “encourage drinkers to drink more to achieve the pleasurable or expected effect.”*

Susan Maier, a spokesperson for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which sponsored the research, pointed to the potential for harm among young binge drinkers who choose to smoke, and who could “develop chronic alcohol-related diseases earlier in life because of it.”

Conceivably, other drugs might interact with alcohol in a similar fashion. Scientists are beginning to take a look at popular gastric upset products like Pepcid and Tagamet. “Individuals who abuse alcohol are likely to use other drugs,” Chen said. “The potential interactive effects of alcohol and other drugs needs to be considered. For example, the co-use of alcohol and cocaine will result in the formation of cocaethylene, which is highly toxic and has led to a higher mortality rate in animal studies.”

*Coffee and cigarettes go very naturally together as well. This is probably true for as many different reasons as there are coffee drinkers and cigarette smokers, but as we previously noted in the case of alcohol and tobacco, there is a metabolic synergism at work. The two drugs really do seem to have been made for each other. Rats on caffeine will self-administer nicotine faster and more steadily than decaffeinated control rats. This is because nicotine causes caffeine to clear the body at twice the normal rate, thereby allowing coffee or tea drinkers to imbibe larger amounts than usual, whether consciously aware of it or not. In turn, caffeine has an equivalent reinforcing effect on nicotine. The more you smoke, the more coffee you can drink, and vice versa. At the chemical level, smokers may be drinking caffeine in order to more finely balance the mood-altering effects of nicotine. A moment’s reflection brings us to the coffee house, an ancient establishment wherein tobacco and coffee are combined to maximum effect. Coffee and cigarettes, to be sure, are the least psychoactive of the psychoactive drugs—more proof that the sheer intensity of the drug high is not the primary determinant of addiction.

--excerpted from The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction © Dirk Hanson 2008, 2009.


--Scott E Parnell, James R West, Wei-Jung A Chen. “Nicotine Decreases Blood Alcohol Concentrations in Adult Rats: A Phenomenon Potentially Related to Gastric Function” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 30 (8), 2006 1408–1413.

--”Smoking ‘reduces alcohol effect.’” BBC News, July 24, 2006.

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