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Why Booze and Cigarettes Go So Well Together

In a new study from the University of Missouri’s Department of Neurology, researchers claim that cigarettes cancel out the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol, causing the two to “feed off one another.”

by Phoebe Hurst
Oct 30 2015, 1:00pm

Canadian country rock duo Small Town Pistols may well have been lurking in the smoking area of your local boozer when they penned their seminal 2014 hit "I Only Smoke When I Drink." See the industrious admin worker dextrously balance three pints while making a rollie. Marvel at the weekday clean-eaters transformed into "social smokers" after two vodka Diet Cokes and a bout of FOMO. Watch as Bernard Black-lookalikes alternate between sips of bad Malbec and long, nicotine-starved drags.

They're all filling their lungs with toxic fumes, sure—but if that scene doesn't inspire an up-tempo acoustic rock number, I don't know what does.

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine may have figured out exactly what makes the combination of booze and cigarettes so inspiring. In a recent study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, scientists from the university's Department of Neurology concluded that cigarettes cancel out the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.

READ MORE: Why Pairing Cigars and Whisky Is a Lot Like Sex

According to the study, when you pair your glass of red with a cigarette, the nicotine acts as a stimulant to ward off any yawning that would usually occur around the bottle's half way mark. This leads to a kind of boozey-smokey cycle.

Mahesh Thakkar, director of research in the university's neurology department and lead author of the study explained: "If an individual smokes, then he or she is much more likely to consume more alcohol, and vice-versa. They feed off one another."

As the study points out, 85 percent of adults in the US who are alcohol-dependent are dependent on nicotine too. This could also be due to the pleasurable impact the pairing of booze and nicotine has on our brains. In previous studies, Thakkar and his team found that nicotine acts via the basal forebrain to increase alcohol consumption and stimulate the brain's pleasure centre.

For this study, the team gave four groups of rats varying combinations of the two substances. One received alcohol and nicotine, the second alcohol but no nicotine, another water and nicotine, and the final group water and no nicotine.

READ MORE: Now Your Lungs Can Smoke Haute Cuisine

Each group of rats was also fitted with sleep-recording equipment. The results showed that while rats exposed to alcohol had strong sleep promotion, those exposed to nicotine experienced less alcohol-induced sleepiness.

This led researchers to conclude that cigarettes suppress the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol.

Thakkar explained: "We have found that nicotine weakens the sleep-inducing effects of alcohol by stimulating a response in an area of the brain known as the basal forebrain."

While the researchers hope that their study will contribute to more effective methods of curbing nicotine and alcohol addiction, it also offers a pretty handy explanation for why it's so easy to stay up until the small hours discussing third wave enviro-feminist theory, fueled only by a steadily overflowing ashtray and several bottles of wine.