Veterans who smoke while trying to stop drinking have a more difficult time becoming sober than their peers who don’t smoke, a new study concludes.
Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, found smoking while trying to stop drinking impairs memory, learning and other cognitive skills—all of which add obstacles to sobriety, according to Medical News Today.
“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,” lead researcher Timothy Dr. Durazzo said in a news release.
He noted that active duty U.S. soldiers smoke at around a 10 percent higher rate than the civilian population. After serving in the military, they are more likely than the general population to abuse alcohol. In 2007, over 375,000 VA patients had a substance use disorder diagnosis, and nearly 500,000 additional patients had a nicotine dependence, Dr. Durazzo noted. He added that alcohol and cigarettes have a greater negative effect on the brain when they are combined.
“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,” he stated.
He studied 70 veterans who sought treatment for alcohol dependence, and examined the effects of smoking on cognitive function after one month of abstinence. Smokers performed significantly worse than non-smokers on measures of learning and memory, intelligence, processing speed and cognitive abilities. Smoking for longer periods was associated with worse cognitive function.
The study is published in Frontiers in Neuropharmacology.