For many, drinking alcohol and smoking go together well, but new research may finally show why.
Writing in the Journal of Neurochemistry, researchers from the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that nicotine “cancels out the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.”
Previous research has shown that more than 85 percent of alcohol-dependent American adults were also dependent on nicotine.
“We know that many people who drink alcohol also use nicotine, but we don’t know why exactly that is,” said Mahesh Thakkar, PhD, associate professor and director of research in the MU School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology and lead author of the study.
“We have found that nicotine weakens the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol by stimulating a response in an area of the brain known as the basal forebrain. By identifying the reactions that take place when people smoke and drink, we may be able to use this knowledge to help curb alcohol and nicotine addiction.”
Thakkar’s previous research has shown that nicotine used with alcohol stimulates the “reward center” of the brain, but the new research shows a symbiotic relationship between the substances.
Using rats fitted with sleep-recording electrodes, he found that nicotine “acts via the basal forebrain” to offset the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.
“One of the adverse effects of drinking alcohol is sleepiness,” Thakkar said. “However, when used in conjunction with alcohol, nicotine acts as a stimulant to ward off sleep. If an individual smokes, then he or she is much more likely to consume more alcohol, and vice-versa. They feed off one another.”
The World Health Organization attributes 7 million deaths per year to alcohol and nicotine use.