Baylor Study Finds Chronic Adolescent Nicotine Use Leads to Increased Susceptibility to Alcohol Withdrawal in Adulthood

March 2, 2010

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If you smoked cigarettes when you were a teen, new research indicates you might be more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol withdrawal later in life.

Baylor University researchers have found that the chronic exposure to nicotine during adolescence in animal models caused a nicotine-induced change in brain development that led to increased vulnerability to alcohol withdrawal in adulthood. It is the first study to look at the combined effect of nicotine and alcohol exposure during the adolescent developmental period on the severity of a subsequent withdrawal from alcohol in adulthood.

The results are documented in the journal Alcohol.

"This study provides evidence that the developing adolescent brain is susceptible to the actions of nicotine and that the effects of that early exposure can result in changes that can be seen in adulthood," said Dr. Jim Diaz-Granados, associate professor and chair of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, who helped lead the study. "Perhaps the most interesting finding is the group that was exposed to nicotine and alcohol during adolescence did not show the same effect as the nicotine-only group. This suggests that there is an interaction between the actions of the two drugs during this developmental period."

The Baylor researchers exposed animal models to nicotine while others were given saline. In addition, half were given alcohol and the other half were given saline, with the treatment lasting approximately one week. After six weeks, all were exposed to 64 hours of alcohol. Upon removal, the researchers measured the severity of alcohol withdrawal. Those exposed to nicotine only during adolescence showed the most severe withdrawal symptoms, while those exposed to nicotine and alcohol during adolescence did not. Diaz-Granados said one outcome of alcohol withdrawal is nervous system hyperexcitability and those that had been exposed to nicotine during adolescent development suffered more severe alcohol withdrawal-related hyperexcitability.

"The results are another important indication that drug use during adolescent brain development can have long-term consequences as compared to drug use during adulthood," Diaz-Granados said.

Media contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, Assistant Vice President of Media Communications, 254-710-1964.

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