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Smoking Leads to More Drinking, Researchers Find in Mice Models

Update Date: Jul 20, 2013 11:44 AM EDT

Researchers have repeatedly observed that smokers tend to drink more alcohol than other people. Smoking alone is already extremely detrimental to one's health, adding excessive drinking to the mix can cut one's lifespan severely. In order to find ways of preventing people from excessively indulging in both vices, figuring out the association between smoking and alcohol would be vital. In a recent study, researchers decided to analyze why smokers tend to drink more in mouse models.

"It's pretty well understood by most people that those who smoke are more likely to drink," professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, John Dani said according to NPR. "And these people are ten times more likely to abuse alcohol."

In this study, the research team used mouse models to study the effects of drinking after smoking. The researchers administered nicotine to the rats, waited awhile and then gave them alcohol to drink. The researchers know that alcohol consumption leads to an increase in dopamine, which is a chemical in the brain that is responsible for reward and pleasure. Not only does alcohol increase dopamine, the researchers also acknowledged the fact that smoking increases the chemical as well. When done together, the combination could cause a cycle of excessively smoking and drinking that would increase reward and pleasure.

The researchers shockingly found that after consuming nicotine and alcohol, the rats' dopamine levels did not increase, but instead, they fell. The researchers thought that their results might have been a mistake and thus, they redid the experiment. To their dismay, the rats' dopamine levels continued to remain low. To study why this was the case, the researchers looked at how much alcohol the rats were consuming. They found that the rats, like real human smokers, were drinking a large amount of alcohol after nicotine exposure.

The researchers noticed that the combination of nicotine and alcohol suppressed the release of dopamine. The researchers reasoned that since smokers might not get the reward feeling from alcohol after they smoke, they might be more incline to drink more in order to achieve those feelings.

"It's consistent with what occurs in the brains of risk takers, people who love dangerous, risky activities. Their brains send out a smaller dopamine signal, and so

they seek out more and more dangerous activities," Dani said.

The study was published in Neuron.

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