Nicotine-alcohol combination affects learning abilities

23 08 2008

The ill effects of both nicotine and alcohol are well documented. But a new study says that in combination they are even more harmful.

The two most abused drugs can, taken together, affect a person’s ability to learn, according to the study by a team of Temple University researchers.

The findings of the study were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

Thomas J. Gould, co-author of the study, said that it aimed to understand the interactive effects of the two drugs and how they alter behaviour and produce neural changes.

This, he said, would place us “in a better position to develop treatments for drug addiction”.

Using an animal model, Gould and co-author Danielle Gulick examined the effects of alcohol and nicotine on learning to determine what happens as the drugs are combined at different doses.

“Think of a situation in which somebody is drinking and having cognitive difficulties,” said Gould. “Smoking may take the edge off of it at first, so they begin smoking and they smoke more and more until tolerance develops and they lose that edge.

“Now they are drinking and smoking and they are addicted to both. But if they try to quit smoking, they go into nicotine withdrawal, which results in a learning deficit. Maybe a drink will actually help them out initially, but then they consume more and they develop even worse learning deficits, so now they begin smoking again and they end up relapsing.”