Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

Spring 4-18-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Deanna Barch


The consumption, and often abuse, of alcohol is frequently accompanied by cigarette smoking. Between eighty and ninety-five percent of alcoholics also smoke cigarettes, a rate more than four times higher than in the general population. The mechanisms underlying this association remain poorly understood. A general class of explanation is that smoking might affect the acutely intoxicating effects of alcohol. The relationships could take several forms, none of which is necessarily exclusive of another. These could include 1) synergism of effects, especially reward-related feelings of stimulation and positive affect, 2) additive effects, whereby the stimulating effects of nicotine could offset the depressant effects of alcohol, and 3) smoking-related desensitization to the effects of alcohol, by a mechanism of cross-tolerance.

The latter proposal, that smoking (i.e., nicotine) leads to cross-tolerance to alcohol, provides a guiding hypothesis for the research described here. Such a proposal is supported by an extensive body of evidence from animal studies that is consistent with an interpretation in terms of cross-tolerance between nicotine and alcohol, such that nicotine consumption diminishes sensitivity to the acute intoxicating effects of alcohol (on multiple measures). It has been hypothesized that the reduced sensitivity to the effects of alcohol could lead, in turn, to increased consumption and risk of addiction.

This research examines systematically the acute effects of moderate doses of alcohol and cigarette smoking alone and in combination, on several measures in a controlled laboratory environment. Principal focus is on measures of postural control, which are emphasized because of their known sensitivity to alcohol at moderate doses, and the role they have played in prior studies of individual differences in sensitivity to acute alcohol. Additionally, measures were obtained of subjective effects, oculomotor control, and cognitive functioning.

Eight participants (four female) were tested in four counterbalanced sessions involving alcohol only, cigarette only, alcohol with cigarette, and alcohol placebo only. During all sessions measures were obtained at baseline and at repeated intervals after dosing. Consistent with indications of cross-tolerance between alcohol and nicotine, smoking during the experimental sessions diminished selected effects of alcohol on key measures of postural and, to lesser extent, oculomotor control and subjective effects. The specific cognitive tasks chosen for study proved to be ineffective at detecting effects of alcohol or cigarette smoking. Results are discussed in terms of the physiological and psychological changes associated with the development of acute cross-tolerance, and other forms of interaction between alcohol and nicotine.


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