Scientists study addiction in adolescents closer than in older adults because adolescents have the highest risk factors — including stunted brain development. Youths are out for thrill and pleasure seeking, and a chance to rebel. They don’t take into consideration the behavior they are entering into can have lasting side effects that can follow them the rest of their lives. It is also true that the majority of people who do smoke begin while in their teens.
Why do they begin? During the last 50 years warnings have been posted everywhere, including the side of the cigarette packages, telling of the dangers of smoking. Why would someone take a chance on harming their own bodies when they know it is dangerous?
One reason is the belief that it can’t happen to them. Another is that teen years are full of stress, anxiety and depression and they are seeking something to take some of that down feeling away. Years ago smoking was a status symbol, and those who smoked were either “cool” or rebels.
A study published in Biological Psychiatry indicates that some teens carry gene variations in two different areas that make them three times more likely to become regular smokers in adolescence, and twice as likely to continue the habit into adulthood — compared to those who do not carry these particular genes.
Mutation in dopamine-related genes are linked to a person’s risk of starting to smoke, and these genes are stronger in adolescents than in adults, making the chances of them starting to smoke in their teens much more likely.
The other gene area that the brain targets for nicotine inhalation during smoking is the subunit of the “nicotinic cholinergic receptors.” The mutation in these genes has a higher than average risk indicator the smoker will carry their habit into adulthood. Its influence on the adult brain is greater than that of the adolescent.
“These findings seem to make some sense, says Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “The dopamine-related genes may be more closely associated with the risk for addiction within the context of thrill-seeking, while cholinergic receptors, which have been implicated in mood and cognition as well as addiction, might contribute to self-medication models of addiction.”
Researchers of the study believe their findings could help in the development of genetic testing for those who want to know if they are pre-disposed to smoking. They hope it will also lead to the development of drugs that can change a person’s response to nicotine, if they do carry the genes.
Each year nearly approximately 35 million people try to make a serious effort to quit smoking. Unfortunately, most relapse with a week. The nicotine in the tobacco is addictive, and each cigarette contains 10 milligrams of nicotine. Even though each puff does not get absorbed into the lungs, each cigarette gets enough nicotine out of one cigarette to keep them addicted.
There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco; many of these are things we would never consider putting in our bodies’ -like tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, and nitrosamines. Tar causes lung cancer, emphysema and bronchial diseases. Carbon Monoxide causes heart problems — which is why smokers are at a higher risk of heart disease.
Nicotine is pulled into the lungs and then absorbed into the blood. Nicotine is shaped like the brain’s natural chemical acetylcholine (neurotransmitters) that carries messages between brain cells. Nicotine “locks into” acetylcholine receptors and makes some rapid and drastic changes to the brain and body — including raised blood pressure, elevated heart rate and breathing problems. Nicotine also attaches to the acetylcholine receptors on neurons to release a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure receptor, but nicotine causes too much dopamine to be released, and making the person smoking want to light up another one to get more of the “feel good” effect.
The way the body metabolizes the nicotine gives it more potential for addiction, so the longer you smoke the harder it will be to quit, and the more your body will crave because it is building up a tolerance. The withdrawals from nicotine are the main reason people go back to it, even when they really make an effort to quit. The symptoms peak within a few days, and may subside within a few weeks — but most often people don’t let it go that long. Triggers — like when you used to light up after a meal, will set off a craving — and cravings often persist.
If you, or someone you know, want to stop smoking there are hotlines set up for this. A national toll-free number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), can route you to information centers in your state. There is also a Web site–www.smokefree.gov–from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which offers online advice and downloadable information to make stopping easier.
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion and memory training expert. As a memory keynote speaker he travels the world to speak before large groups or small company seminars, demonstrating his memory skills and teaching others how to improve their memory, and how important a good memory is in all phases of your life. His CDs and memory products are also available online at BrainAthlete.com.
Science Daily – Different Genes Influence Smoking Risk During Adolescence and Adulthood: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331080035.htm
NIDA for TEENS — Tobacco Addiction: http://teens.drugabuse.gov/index.php