Smoke Makes Boozers Cloudy

Alcohol dependent smokers showed signs of aging on mental function tests

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Smoking can make people look like an older person, but can it make people think like an older person? Alcoholics that also smoke may be prematurely aging their brains.  

A recent study tested the mental function of a group of people in treatment for alcohol dependence. The group included smokers, former smokers and never smokers.

The results of the study showed that former and current smokers did more poorly on mental function tests than alcohol-dependent never smokers or healthy non-smokers.

"Quit smoking today."

Timothy C. Durazzo, PhD, assistant professor in the department of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California San Francisco, led an investigation into the effects of alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking on the mental function of people that had just begun treatment for alcohol dependence.

Previous studies have shown alcohol-dependent people can have reduced mental function in their first three months of sobriety.

For this study, 119 alcohol-dependent people between the ages of 26 and 71, who were in treatment and had not drunk any alcohol for one month, were given a series of tests.

The researchers also recruited a comparison group of 39 healthy non-smokers to undergo the same tests.

The tests were designed to gauge thinking, problem solving, organizational abilities, coordination, intelligence, learning and memory, quick thinking skills and spatial processing.

Of the alcohol-dependent group, 30 people had never been smokers, 21 people were former smokers and 68 were current smokers.

The results of the study showed that people in the current smoking group did poorly on the spatial, memory, organizational, problem solving, quick thinking and coordination tests compared to the healthy control group.

Poor performance was defined as doing worse than 1.5 levels below the average scores of the group as a whole.

The researchers said the current smokers showed “steeper age-related effects” on the tests compared to the healthy controls, as though the smokers' brains had aged prematurely. 

The former and current smokers did more poorly on several of the tests compared to the never smokers and healthy controls.

The researchers did not find any significant differences between the never smokers and the healthy controls on the tests.

Of the whole test group, only 25 percent did poorly on the spatial, memory and coordination tests.

The study authors wrote that the combination of long-term smoking and alcohol dependence appeared to reduce the mental function of people in the same way that age might reduce mental function.

Of the healthy controls, 13 percent performed poorly on the spatial learning test and 8 percent performed poorly on the memory tests.

Poor performances by the healthy controls were factored into the overall calculations and did not change the authors' conclusion.

The study authors suggested that the findings of this study support the need for smoking cessation interventions for people in treatment for alcohol dependence.

This study was published in May in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 15, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013