New research links alcohol and smoking with brain's hardwiring

A joint study by researchers from China, the UK, France, the US and Germany has found different neural mechanisms underlying smoking and drinking.

A joint study by researchers from China, the UK, France, the US and Germany has found different neural mechanisms underlying smoking and drinking, Fudan University, a leading participant in the program, announced last week.

The findings have been published in famous medical journal “eLife.”

In 2,000 cases, they found that smokers had low functional connectivity in general, especially in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with impulsive behavior.

This suggests that people who smoke may do so to increase their overall brain connectivity through the stimulating effect of nicotine — being impulsive may be a factor leading to smoking.

On the contrary, alcohol drinkers had high overall brain connectivity, especially in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a region implicated in reward. It suggests that the high connectivity of this reward-related brain region may be a factor in attracting some individuals to alcohol.

Importantly, the extent of these functional connectivity changes in the brains of drinkers and smokers correlated with the amount of alcohol and nicotine being consumed.

“These discoveries help to show that there are different neural bases of different types of addiction, and that the orbitofrontal cortex, a key brain region in emotion, is implicated in these two types of addiction,” said Professor Edmund Rolls from the Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-Inspired Intelligence at Fudan University.

“These findings could have important public health implications, as both drinking and smoking affect a large population worldwide,” said Feng Jianfeng, also from the Fudan institute. “These are key discoveries that advance our understanding of the neurological bases of smoking and drinking and also provide new evidence on the different neurological mechanisms that are related to these two types of human addictive behavior, (holding) implications for prevention and treatment.”

According to a WHO investigation, there are over 1.1 billion people who smoke tobacco in the world, and more than 7 million people die each year from it.

Meanwhile, there are 2.3 billion drinkers worldwide, with more than a quarter of all 15–19 year old teenagers drinking. More than 3 million people die as a result of the harmful use of alcohol each year.

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