Nicotine as a Gateway Drug for Cocaine

Have you ever thought that the nicotine in cigarettes could lead to addiction to another drug? According to recent studies, nicotine is actually boosting the chances of becoming addicted to cocaine.

There has been evidence that many users of hard drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, began their addiction with alcohol, nicotine or marijuana. Researchers wanted to look deeper into this evidence to find what sort of effect nicotine ultimately had and if there was a biological correlation.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York City decided to put these theories to the test. Nicotine was mixed in the drinking water of the mice every seven days. When the mice were then exposed to cocaine, their minds showed that they were more apt to become addicted to the stimulant. The mice that were not exposed to the nicotine showed no response to cocaine. When the order of the drugs was switched, and the mice were exposed to cocaine first, there was no behavioral effect.

Similar research had been done in 2003, titled the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Related Consequences. Researchers form Columbia University compared their findings with the 2003 study and found that those who were dependent on cocaine had a higher rate of addiction because they were nicotine users prior to starting cocaine.

The study showed that histone proteins in the reward center of the brain are influenced greatly by nicotine. With nicotine, the histone proteins activate specific genes and ultimately lead to an exaggerated response to cocaine.

With results such as these, there is wonder if the reduced usage of nicotine would lower the rates of addiction to other drugs. In another study that analyzed high school students, researchers found that 81 percent of the students who used cocaine began within a month of actively smoking tobacco products, and only 18.8 percent used cocaine without actively using nicotine.

The outcomes of this study are beginning to make a difference in addiction treatment facilities. Since the treatment of nicotine addictions can possibly help the treatment of cocaine addictions, drug rehab centers are taking this into account. Smokers who have been placed in substance abuse treatment programs are given nicotine-replacement products to wean them off the habit.

While the study of nicotine and cocaine has led to a major breakthrough, there is now wonder if the same effect is in place with other substances, such as alcohol and marijuana. Is there a common mechanism for all gateway drugs, or does each utilize its own mechanism?