Transdermal Nicotine Administration and the Electroencephalographic Activity of Substance Abusers in Treatment

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It is widely recognized that individuals with alcohol or illicit substance abuse disorders often smoke cigarettes. However, few studies have examined the direct effects of nicotine among substance abuse subgroups. The current study examined patterns of electroencephalographic (EEG) activity in alcohol-dependent, stimulant-dependent, alcohol- and stimulant-dependent participants, and community controls. All participants were regular smokers.


After overnight nicotine abstinence, subjects were administered either a high (14 or 21 mg) or low (7 mg) dose transdermal nicotine patch. EEG data were collected during a 2-minute eyes open and 5-minute eyes closed baseline recording session, which occurred as part of a larger study of brain electrophysiology.


The most interesting finding was a differential pattern of nicotine dose effects by group. EEGs of controls and alcohol- and stimulant-dependent participants did not distinguish between high and low nicotine doses; whereas, nicotine administration in the alcohol-dependent and stimulant-dependent groups resulted in opposite findings across a range of spectral bands.


Although further research is warranted, these results may have implications for the study of smoking cessation and attentional functioning among substance abusers in treatment. These data suggest that nicotine-related changes in neurophysiology may be associated with specific brain areas and/or specific drug histories and reinforce the need for caution in generalizing among such groups.

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