Trying to quit smoking? The devil is in the drink
If drinking and smoking seem inextricably linked, perhaps it's because in the brain's pleasure centre they actually are.
Alcoholics often have a particularly hard time quitting cigarettes. Traute Flatscher-Bader at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and colleagues wondered why this should be. So they did a post-mortem analysis of gene expression in the brains of smokers, alcoholics and those who had done both during their lives.
They found that a group of genes in the nucleus accumbens - an area involved in creating pleasurable feelings - were expressed most strongly in their group of alcoholic smokers (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01207.x).
These genes play a role in rewiring the neurons in the nucleus accumbens. That means people who both smoke and drink might get a greater reward, making it harder for them to quit, says Flatscher-Bader.
Knowing that the link between drinking and smoking may not be purely social could lead to new ways to treat addiction.
05 June 2010
New Scientist Magazine online