, Volume 35, Issue 8, pp 1248-1258
Date: 25 May 2010

Nicotine: Alcohol Reward Interactions

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Abstract

It is well established that the continued intake of drugs of abuse is reinforcing—that is repeated consumption increases preference. This has been shown in some studies to extend to other drugs of abuse; use of one increases preference for another. In particular, the present review deals with the interaction of nicotine and alcohol as it has been shown that smoking is a risk factor for alcoholism and alcohol use is a risk factor to become a smoker. The review discusses changes in the brain caused by chronic nicotine and chronic alcohol intake to approach the possible mechanisms by which one drug increases the preference for another. Chronic nicotine administration was shown to affect nicotine receptors in the brain, affecting not only receptor levels and distribution, but also receptor subunit composition, thus affecting affinity to nicotine. Other receptor systems are also affected among others catecholamine, glutamate, GABA levels and opiate and cannabinoid receptors. In addition to receptor systems and transmitters, there are endocrine, metabolic and neuropeptide changes as well induced by nicotine. Similarly chronic alcohol intake results in changes in the brain, in multiple receptors, transmitters and peptides as discussed in this overview and also illustrated in the tables. The changes are sex and age-dependent—some changes in males are different from those in females and in general adolescents are more sensitive to drug effects than adults. Although nicotine and alcohol interact—not all the changes induced by the combined intake of both are additive—some are opposing. These opposing effects include those on locomotion, acetylcholine metabolism, nicotine binding, opiate peptides, glutamate transporters and endocannabinoid content among others. The two compounds lower the negative withdrawal symptoms of each other which may contribute to the increase in preference, but the mechanism by which preference increases—most likely consists of multiple components that are not clear at the present time. As the details of induced changes of nicotine and alcohol differ, it is likely that the mechanisms of increasing nicotine preference may not be identical to that of increasing alcohol preference. Stimulation of preference of yet other drugs may again be different –representing one aspect of drug specificity of reward mechanisms.