Smoking interferes with thinking and memory in recovering alcoholics
Non-smoking recovering alcoholics outperform smoking recovering alcoholics on tests of memory, thinking, visual and auditory learning, and memory
After six to nine months of abstinence from alcohol, recovering alcoholics who were also chronic smokers showed a significantly lower rate of improvement in tests of memory, reasoning, judgment, and visual/spatial coordination than non-smoking recovering alcoholics in a study conducted by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC).
Not only did the smokers improve less, but their overall scores were lower than the non-smokers on most brain and thinking measures tested by the researchers.
“This suggests that continued smoking during abstinence from alcohol may adversely affect recovery,” says Timothy Durazzo, PhD, the study’s lead author and a research scientist in radiology at SFVAMC.
After approximately one month of self-reported abstinence from alcohol, the subjects were tested on an array of neurocognitive abilities known to be affected by chronic alcohol abuse: auditory/verbal learning and memory; visual/spatial learning and memory; cognitive efficiency (speed and accuracy of intellectual task performance); executive skills (higher order thinking, reasoning, judgment, and planning); processing speed; working memory (short-term memory); motor functioning; and postural stability. The results were compared with those of 22 non-smoking, light drinking controls.
After six to nine months of alcohol abstinence, the alcoholics and controls were re-tested. The smokers showed significantly less improvement than the non-smokers in cognitive efficiency, executive skills, working memory, and visual/spatial learning and memory. Overall, their performance in tests of auditory/verbal learning and memory, cognitive efficiency, executive skills, processing speed, and working memory was inferior to that of the non-smokers.
Additionally, the smokers demonstrated lower recovery in markers of neuronal integrity and cell membrane health than the non-smokers.
“This indicates that the smokers showed less recovery over time and were functionally inferior to the non-smokers at six to nine months of abstinence,” observes Durazzo.
Recovery from alcoholism now includes recovery from smoking
Durazzo says that the long-term benefit of quitting alcohol and tobacco simultaneously is becoming more and more apparent to researchers and clinicians. “In terms of addiction, it’s been shown that alcohol and nicotine reinforce each other’s rewarding properties. Alcoholics tend to smoke, and smoking may serve as a potential cue or trigger for the urge to drink. So if you eliminate a trigger for alcohol craving, you may have a better chance of staying sober.”
Durazzo also points out that the mortality rate associated with chronic cigarette smoking is four times greater than mortality related to alcoholism. “Simply for that reason, it may be advisable to encourage individuals seeking treatment for alcoholism to consider participating in a smoking cessation program at the same time.”
Timothy Durazzo, Johannes C. Rothlind; Stefan Gazdzinski, and Peter Banys. July, 2007 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.