New research verifies previous studies by Dr. Timothy Durazzo and his colleagues, showing that smoking, while trying to quit drinking alcohol, impairs learning, memory, and other cognitive skills, hindering successful sobriety.

Dr. Durazzo comments:

“Given our strong and consistent research findings in both Veterans and civilians on the ill-effects of chronic smoking, we truly hope to see smoking cessation programs become increasingly available for our current active-duty war fighters.”

Active duty US soldiers have a 10 percent higher rate of smoking than the general US population. After a soldier becomes inactive, they statistically run greater risks of alcohol and substance abuse, as well as mental illness.

In 2007, more than 375,000 Veterans Affairs patients reported suffering from a substance abuse problem, and close to 500,00 more patients had a nicotine dependence. According to the authors, cigarettes and alcohol, when combined, have a stronger derogatory effect on cognitive function and brain biology.

Dr. Darazzo explains:

“Our results suggest that it is a high priority to offer comprehensive smoking cessation treatment for all patients, especially for those seeking treatment for alcohol and substance abuse, given the high prevalence of smoking in these individuals.”

Earlier studies have shown that differences in the COMT and BDNF genes have an impact on cognitive function. Consequently, the researchers desired to find out if variants in these genes explained the substandard cognitive performance they constantly saw in their smoking, alcohol dependent patients.

Durazzo and his team studied 70 (majority male) Veterans seeking treatment for alcohol dependence. They examined the effects of cigarette smoking and genetic influences on cognitive function after at least 1 month of sobriety.

Findings revealed, after controlling the influence of these genotypes, that smokers performed notably worse than non-smokers on evaluations of general intelligence, learning and memory, global cognitive abilities, and processing speed. Critically, within the smoking group, more years of smoking were associated with worse cognitive function.

Complete functioning in these areas can help individuals to incorporate the treatment they receive into their everyday lives. In general, the findings, published in Frontiers, confirmed their earlier research and gives support to the rising movement to make smoking abstinence programs more common at the start of alcohol and substance abuse treatments. Studies frequently report that smokers have a greater risk of relapse to alcohol or substances than non-smokers.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald