Nicotine rats addicted to alcohol?

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How smoking increases susceptibility to alcohol abuse

Nicotine increases the desire for alcohol - at least in rats. It has long been known that smokers are increasingly prone to alcohol abuse, making tobacco consumption a risk factor for alcohol addiction. So far, it has not been clear which neural processes cause this connection. In experiments with rats, US scientists from the Institute of Neurosciences at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have now decoded the underlying effect and published their results in the specialist journal "Neuron".

As the research team led by William Doyon found, smoking inhibits the synaptic transmission that occurs when in contact with dopamine neurons, which generally affects the dopamine response. Dopamine acts as a happiness hormone and plays an essential role in the brain's reward system. Since less dopamine was released in the brain of the nicotine rats, they simply increased their alcohol intake in the experiments. So far, whether the results apply to humans in a similar way remains uncertain, but this could be an explanation for the increased alcohol abuse among smokers, which has been demonstrated in previous studies.

Smoking as a risk factor for alcohol abuse "Smoking is a known risk factor for later alcohol abuse, but the underlying neuronal events of this risk have so far been largely unknown," Doyon and colleagues write. In experiments with rats, the scientists now investigated the effect of early nicotine consumption on the drinking behavior of the animals. They observed that rats under the influence of nicotine drank alcohol provided from drinking containers much more frequently than the animals in the control group. This is mainly caused by the impairment of the dopamine response. The brain's reward system is being slowed down and the animals concerned are looking for replacements to stimulate dopamine release. This explains the increased susceptibility to alcohol abuse, but possibly also to other drugs.

Blocking the stress hormone receptors in the rats prior to nicotine intake in the trials led to the prevention of all previously established relationships between nicotine and alcohol consumption, the US scientists report. This also applies to the inhibition of dopamine neurons, the reduced dopamine response and the increased alcohol consumption. According to the scientists, the neuronal effect that underlies the increased alcohol abuse among smokers has been decrypted, although it has not yet been checked to what extent the results can be transferred to humans. If people reacted in a comparable way, experimenting with cigarettes in adolescence could make them more susceptible to alcohol abuse later in life, said study co-author John Dani. He therefore also spoke in favor of improving prevention. According to the expert, smoking teenagers should also participate in appropriate weaning programs if necessary. (fp)

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