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Does smoking cloud the brain?

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Smokers often say that smoking a cigarette helps them concentrate and feel more alert. But years of tobacco use may have the opposite effect, dimming the speed and accuracy of a person's thinking ability and bringing down their IQ, according to a new study led by University of Michigan researchers.

The association between long-term smoking and diminished mental proficiency in 172 alcoholic and non-alcoholic men was a surprising finding from a study that set out to examine alcoholism's long-term effect on the brain and thinking skills.

While the researchers confirmed previous findings that alcoholism is associated with thinking problems and lower IQ, their analysis also revealed that long-term smoking is too. The effect on memory, problem-solving and IQ was most pronounced among those who had smoked for years. Among the alcoholic men, smoking was associated with diminished thinking ability even after alcohol and drug use were accounted for.

The findings are the first to suggest a direct relationship between smoking and neurocognitive function among men with alcoholism. And, the results suggest that smoking is associated with diminished thinking ability even among men without alcohol problems.

The new findings, released online before publication by the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, were made by a team from the U-M Medical School's Addiction Research Center, or UMARC, and their colleagues at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and Michigan State University.

Lead author Jennifer Glass, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the U-M Department of Psychiatry, cautions that the findings need to be duplicated by other studies before any conclusions are made about smoking's effect on the brain, or before the findings can be considered relevant to women.

But, she says, the findings should prompt alcoholism researchers to re-examine their data for any impact from smoking -- a factor that is
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
11-Oct-2005


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