"No I don't smoke. Only when I drink." Wait what?

Photo via Vice

Photo via Vice

Drunken cigarettes: we're all guilty of this. But why? Vice did a report on this. "According to Dr. John Dani, a neuroscientist and expert on the mechanisms of addiction from the University of Pennsylvania, the urge to smoke is two-pronged. The first part results from the way nicotine affects memory, but the other is in how nicotine combines with alcohol to reduce dopamine levels. Together the two mechanisms make cigarettes seem delicious.

Dr. Dani flashes back to a personal experience, 'I remember recently finishing an experiment with a colleague, and we went to a bar. I had known him for many years and never knew he smoked, but then he admitted he could really go for a cigarette. He said he hadn't smoked in 20 years, not since high school. But now he has a few drinks and feels the urge to smoke.'

What's that mean?

Image via Elite Daily

Image via Elite Daily

In 2009, Dr. Dani's team published a study examining how nicotine supercharges the formation of memory pathways. What they did was run laboratory mice through two compartments in a pen. In one compartment, the mice received a dose of harmless saline, while in the other they received a dose of nicotine. Unsurprisingly the mice quickly learned to spend more time in the nicotine compartment. But what's really interesting is the affect the nicotine had on their brains.

Compared to injections of saline, nicotine strengthened neuronal connections, sometimes up to 200 percent," explained Dr. Dani. "And this strengthening of connections underlies new memory formation. We found that nicotine could strengthen neuronal synaptic connections only when the so-called reward centers sent a dopamine signal. And that was the critical process in creating the memory associations."

So on the one hand, the study just underlined something we already knew: Feel-good activities make us want to do them again. But on the other, it showed on a neurological level how our memories of smoking cigarettes get hardwired into the brain. And more important, how all these associated memories—such as drinking and hanging with friends—all get bundled into these same, nicotine-reinforced memory pathways."

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