BEIJING, CHINA — A recent international study found that different brain areas are associated with smoking and drinking which may shed light on the prevention and treatment of alcohol and nicotine abuse.
Researchers from China’s Fudan University, the University of Warwick in the U.K., and other research institutions analyzed brain functional magnetic resonance images from two brain scan databases from the United States and Europe.
They reported on the latest issue of journal eLife that the medial orbitofrontal cortex, a brain area associated with rewards, has higher functional connectivity in drinkers. It suggests that drinkers are attracted to alcohol for the experience of pleasure caused by the reward system in the brain.
Meanwhile, smokers had low functional brain connectivity in general, especially in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region linked to impulsive behavior. It suggests that smokers need the stimulating effect of nicotine to increase their overall brain connectivity.
The study also found that the changes in functional brain connectivity were detectable even when participants smoked only a few cigarettes or drank a small amount of alcohol every day.
Feng Jianfeng, a corresponding author of the study and director of the Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-Inspired Intelligence, Fudan University, said the study could have important public health implications as both drinking and smoking affect a large part of the global population.
According to the World Health Organization, over 1.1 billion people smoke tobacco in the world, and more than 7 million people die each year due to the use of tobacco. Around 2.3 billion people worldwide are current drinkers, and excessive drinking killed more than 3 million people in 2016.