Connection between nicotine use and compulsive alcohol consumption
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In light of the many dangerous drug habits that one could potentially develop, nicotine use seems to pale in comparison. Many problematic substance abuse disorders involve a number of illicit street drugs, prescription medications and alcohol, and addiction to these substances often results in detrimental consequences. While nicotine use also involves a number of health risks, research continually sheds light on the implications of this drug. Drug addicts might turn to nicotine as a substitute for hardline drugs or alcohol, so it is important to understand the risks that are involved for individuals in recovery.

Risks associated with nicotine use

Nicotine, which is a biological component that naturally occurs in the tobacco plant, is the main substance that smokers become addicted to. Whether through cigarettes, bidis, chew, cigars, electronic cigarettes, hookahs, snuff or pipes, the ingestion of nicotine through these products can quickly lead to an addiction.

An addiction to nicotine can be described as a recurring and periodic craving, want or need for nicotine or tobacco. Nicotine is highly addictive because of the rapid way in which this substance is carried in the body, as well as the behavioral effects and cultural rituals that reinforce this addiction.

Because of the intensity of nicotine addiction, both biologically and behaviorally, many users find it quite challenging to quit or practice abstinence from this drug. In fact, a large national survey completed in the United States revealed that cigarettes were far more difficult to quit than alcohol, cannabis, or cocaine. Even with the known health risks and increased mortality rate that come with nicotine use, attempting to quit can be complex and challenging.

Understand the connection to alcohol abuse

Research has demonstrated that smokers have a five to 10 times increased risk of developing alcohol dependence than nonsmokers. This information reveals how this addictive behavior can, in fact, evolve into a vicious cycle of alcohol abuse. In a recent study led by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute, scientists have uncovered how nicotine use can actually promote alcohol dependence. Through the use of neurological studies, researchers found that the combination of nicotine and alcohol activates a group of neurons in the brain, which translates into positive reinforcement when alcohol and nicotine are used.

Senior author of this study, Olivier George, noted that “nicotine makes individuals crave alcohol to ‘reward’ the brain and reduce stress.” Findings from this study, which were published in The Journal of Neuroscience, led George and his team to discover that the neurons that are activated in the brain as a result of the combination of alcohol and nicotine are entirely different from the neurons activated by each substance alone.

From rat model experimentation, researchers found that nicotine-exposed rats developed alcohol dependence much faster than rats that were not exposed to nicotine. Scientists were able to conclude that alcohol can work with nicotine to further stimulate the reward system in the brain. Findings from studies such as this one can help allude to the complexity of nicotine use in the body, especially when nicotine is combined with other addictive substances, such as alcohol.

Connect to treatment and help

Because of the powerful biological, behavioral and environmental forces that are involved with addiction, professional help is often needed to intervene and overcome substance abuse. This includes addiction to nicotine, alcohol and anything in between.

Sovereign Health Treatment Centers offer comprehensive treatment programs that specialize in mental health, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. If you or a loved one is seeking help to overcome an addiction, call the Sovereign Health Helpline at 866- 629-0442 to chat with someone confidentially. Help for addiction is possible and begins by taking the first step toward help and treatment.

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