Cigarette smoking exacerbates alcohol-induced brain damage

  • Roughly 80 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals report smoking regularly.
  • Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption is already known to cause brain damage.
  • Cigarette smoking can also cause brain damage, both in conjunction with alcohol use as well as independently.
  • These findings have important implications for both alcohol/smoking treatment and recovery.

The substances most frequently used by alcohol-dependent individuals are tobacco products; roughly 80 percent of alcohol-dependent individuals report smoking regularly. Although brain morphology, neurometabolism, and neurocognition are known to be adversely affected by chronic, heavy alcohol consumption, little research has examined the independent effects of cigarette smoking or its potentially compounding effects on alcohol-induced brain damage. A study in the December issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that cigarette smoking can both exacerbate alcohol-induced damage as well as independently cause brain damage.

"While the effects of cigarette smoking on the heart, lungs, central and peripheral vascular systems, and its carcinogenic properties have been studied for many years in humans, very little is known about its effects on the brain and its functions," said Timothy C. Durazzo, a neuropsychologist and neuroscience researcher at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center and corresponding author for the study. "A mere handful of studies indicate that chronic cigarette smoking by itself has adverse effects on brain structure and cognitive functioning. However, to date, we are not aware of any published studies using magnetic resonance imaging methods on human brains that have shown cigarette smoking compounds alcohol-induced damage."

What is known, said Durazzo, is that smokers tend to consume more alcohol than non-smokers. It is also known that chronic alcohol dependence can damage alcoholics'


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