Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Coffee and Cigarettes

Recovering alcoholics and their drugs.

It's no secret that alcohol and cigarettes go together. And it is common knowledge--and an AA truism--that recovering alcoholics take to strong black coffee like ducks to water.

Now comes a study of Alcoholics Anonymous participants in Nashville, to be published in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, which verifies the obvious, with a twist. Of 289 AA members interviewed by Dr. Peter R. Martin and coworkers at the Vanderbilt Addiction Center, 56.9% of respondents were cigarette smokers (approximately 20% of all adult Americans smoke cigarettes).

When it came to coffee, however, 88.5% of AA attendees were coffee drinkers, and a third of them drank more than 4 cups a day. "The most important finding," said Dr. Martin in a Vanderbilt University press release, "was that not all recovering alcoholics smoke cigarettes while almost all drink coffee."

Does all that coffee guzzling and cigarette smoking help or hinder recovering alcoholics in their quest for sobriety? The answer is: nobody quite knows. Dr. Martin, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Vanderbilt and lead investigator of the study, entitled "Coffee and Cigarette Consumption and Perceived Effects in Recovering Alcoholics Participating in Alcoholics Anonymous in Nashville, TN," put it this way in Science Daily: "Is this behavior simply a way to bond or connect in AA meetings, analogous to the peace pipe among North American Indians, or do constituents of these natural compounds result in pharmacological actions that affect the brain?"

"It's possible that coffee is even a gateway drug, with coffee drinking beginning at about the time persons begin using alcohol," said Robert Swift of the Brown University Medical School. "In addition, a potential negative interaction is coffee's known negative effects on sleep."

Selena Bartlett of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center of the University of California, San Francisco, offers the same concerns about cigarettes. A reliance on smoking by recovering alcoholics has a biological basis, she believes, and may increase the odds of relapse. In a HealthDay article by Steven Reinberg, Bartlett said: "My prediction would be that the relapse rates among smokers is higher." Since nicotine and alcohol addiction are so often found together, Bartlett thinks they should also be treated together, and is studying the anti-smoking drug Chantix for this purpose. "The drug inhibits the effect of nicotine, and by doing that, you may also reduce the euphoric effects of alcohol at the same time," she said. "We already have some evidence that it may work."

Varenicline, currently marketed by Pfizer for smoking cessation under the trade name Chantix, caught the attention of alcohol researchers when it dramatically curbed drinking in alcohol-preferring rats. The synthetic drug was modeled after a cytosine compound from the European Labumum tree, combined with an alkaloid from the poppy plant. An estimated 85 per cent of alcoholics are also cigarette smokers. (Chantix has lately been implicated, along with a dozen other anti-seizure medications, in suicidal ideation in some patients).

"I think it is important for alcohol researchers and clinicians to know that alcoholics, even those who do not use other illicit drugs, are not just addicted to alcohol, but use other psychotropic drugs like caffeine and nicotine," said Professor Swift of Brown University. "A second important aspect is the finding that rates of smoking are much higher in alcoholics in recovery than in the general population.... Yet, AA tolerates or otherwise does not address smoking in its members."

Dr. Martin said that more detailed analyses of the results will help determine "whether these changes in coffee and cigarette use are predictive of recovery from alcoholism per se."

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