March 17, 2006 - People who smoke after they sober up may have a harder time recovering from alcoholism than those who don't smoke.
"This study suggests that for better brain recovery, it may be beneficial for alcoholics in early abstinence to stop smoking as well," says researcher Dieter Meyerhoff, professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, in a news release.
The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Faster Brain Recovery
Researchers compared the brains of 25 recovering alcoholics -- 14 smokers and 11 nonsmokers. The researchers used a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -- called spectroscopic imaging -- to measure two markers of brain cell function and health.
The scans showed that after one month of abstinence from alcohol, significant increases were found in both markers of brain function and health.
However, researchers did not find the same pattern or magnitude of recovery in recovering alcoholics who smoked. In fact, they found a decrease in some of these indicators of brain cell health and function in areas of the brain that deal with sensory processing and manipulating objects.
Tests of the participants' brain function -- including learning and memory, attention and concentration, and overall processing speed -- also showed that nonsmokers' increases in these markers were associated with improvements in function.
Researchers say these results are preliminary and further study is needed to confirm these results. But if they are, smoking cessation may need to be added to the treatment plan for recovering alcoholics.
"This may be a lot to ask from an alcoholic individual going through drastic brain chemical imbalances in early recovery," says Meyerhoff. "But it may lead to faster brain recovery."