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Alcohol Abuse and Cocaine: Where is the Connection?

The link between cocaine use and long-term alcohol abuse is at the center of a new study published by researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center.

The study, which was tested on rats, revealed that alcohol use lights up a section of the brain that belongs to the reward circuit. Those rats tested that were exposed to long-term alcohol exposure were more likely to “seek” cocaine—which was released when the animal pressed on a lever.

We have been familiar with the term “gateway drug” for decades, though the researchers at Columbia University sought out to discover the true connection between the abuse of different substances.

The research was published in the journal Science Advances this week.

Cocaine and Alcohol: How Are They Linked?

The relationship between cocaine and alcohol abuse has been documented for quite some time. The dangers involved between the abuse of both substances are many, and can include violent tendencies and anxiety in the short-term, and paranoia and nasal issues (deviated septum, nosebleeds, etc.) in the long-term.

While each substance holds its own risks, the two substances together create a much larger risk that can even lead to sudden death.

With studies such as Columbia’s coming to light, it is clear that alcohol abuse can set the stage for the abuse of other substances. Cocaine use is on the rise in the United States, according to reports released by the Drug Enforcement Agency, and a study in JAMA Psychiatry revealed that 1 in 8 Americans meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder.

Although alcohol abuse certainly does not indicate that a person will experiment with or become addicted to cocaine, the study suggests that we must further examine the connection between the abuse of the substances.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study, and believed that they would find a link between alcohol and nicotine use and illegal drugs. Their director, Nora Vodkow, stated that, ““[…] the finding of this common gateway pathway between nicotine and alcohol opens up new avenues in prevention research.”

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