Some 85 percent of drinkers are also smokers. This is no surprise to researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

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Mahesh Thakkar, lead author of a new study, has found two distinct physiological effects in the brain when nicotine and alcohol are combined.

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The first finding was that nicotine, a stimulant, cancels out the drowsy effect that normally comes with the consumption of alcohol, a depressant. The second finding was the increased pleasure sensation recorded in the brain when nicotine and alcohol are introduced to the body at the same time.

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“When you smoke, it cancels out the sleepiness part (from alcohol),” Thakkar said. “But the enjoyment also increases, because the nicotine activates the (brain’s) reward center.”

Smoking cancels out the sleepy effects of booze — but nicotine activates the brain’s reward center.

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The research was performed with lab animals, which showed they would consistently consume more alcohol when they had nicotine in their bodies. The controlled experiment showed a physiological response outside any social or behavioral conditioning.

LifeZette asked some people who are, or have been, smokers and drinkers to respond to these findings, to see if these findings rang true with their experiences.

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Peg Myers is a 58-year-old recovering alcoholic from the Twin Cities area and an accounts payable accountant. “I tried many times to quit smoking while I was still drinking, to no avail,” she said. “I finally quit smoking after three years of continuous sobriety. Then, after 11 years of sobriety, I chose to drink again, but it was not until five years later that I smoked a cigarette.”

For Myers, smoking was more social and contextual. She said that during rehab, “I could feel that ‘pull’ of friends who were smoking outside. Otherwise, in my normal daily environment, I’d never give smoking a moment’s thought.”

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Rebecca Vant is a 45-year-old who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mike. They are social drinkers and smokers. Rebecca Vant said she sees no evidence among her circle of friends to support the findings that smoking increases alcohol consumption.

“If anything, the reverse is true,” she said. “I have many friends who only smoke when they drink.”

In her observations, she sees alcohol consumption contributing to the increased desire for nicotine, not the other way around.

Thakkar’s study focused on two areas of the brain – the reward center, and the area that regulates sleep and wakefulness, the basal forebrain. The basal forebrain, our sleep control center, has been an important focus for studies related to the effects of alcohol on the body.

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“Many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep at night,” Thakkar told LifeZette.

What most people don’t realize is that even though alcohol can help them fall asleep, it actually prevents them from getting the kind of sleep they need most. Studies show that alcohol interrupts rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, the deepest sleep, which usually occurs during the second half of the night and is the only time when dreams occur.

“A moderate dose of alcohol consumed as much as (six) hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep,” the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has said.

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Thakkar said people “feel” as if they’ve gotten a full night’s sleep, so they don’t understand why they feel fatigued the next day. Many try to solve the problem by consuming more alcohol in the evening, without realizing they’re actually making the problem worse.

What is the correlation between the alcohol sleep disturbance and the nicotine and alcohol study?

Just because an individual isn’t cognitively aware their smoking is increasing alcohol consumption, it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. That desire to have a cigarette when drinking may just be the “reward center” saying it wants that multiplied affect that comes with introducing alcohol and nicotine into the body at the same time.