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How Long Does it Take to Get
Hooked on Smoking?

All it takes is one cigarette!

Up to now, it was thought it took a few years for smokers to become addicted, but the latest research shows addiction takes place in days.

Scientists have confirmed a suspicion held by some smokers but never proven: it could take just one cigarette to become addicted.
Experts have tried for years to determine how long people have to smoke before becoming addicted, said Dr Richard Hurt, director of the Nicotine Dependency Unit at the Mayo Clinic in the United States.

"The best answer to date has been one to two years," said Dr Hurt, who was not involved with the latest research. "There's been a suspicion that many people become addicted very quickly, but this is really the first hard evidence that we've had that this occurs."

Research reported in the British Medical Association journal, Tobacco Control, found that several 12- and 13-year-olds showed evidence of addiction within a few days of their first cigarette. Dr Hurt said the findings would help scientists better understand the biology of nicotine addiction and lend more plausibility to the idea that some people may be more susceptible genetically to it than others.

The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Massachusetts in 1998. The experts followed 681 teenagers aged 12 and 13 from seven schools incentral Massachusetts for a year and tracked their smoking habits.
The researchers did not label any of them as addicted because the standard definition of nicotine dependence assumes that addiction cannot happen without prolonged heavy smoking. The scientists simply recorded symptoms that indicate addiction. Symptoms include cravings, needing to smoke more to get the same buzz, withdrawal symptoms when not smoking, feeling addicted to tobacco and loss of control over the number of cigarettes smoked or the duration of smoking. A total of 95 teens said they had started smoking occasionally - at least one cigarette a month - during the study.

 

 

The scientists found that 63 per cent of them had one or more symptoms of addiction. A quarter of those with symptoms got them within two weeks of starting to smoke and several said their symptoms began within a few days.
Sixty-two per cent said they had their first symptom before they began smoking every day, or that the symptoms had made them start smoking daily.
"The really important implication of this study is that we have to warn kids that you can't just fool around with cigarettes or experiment with them for a few weeks and then give them up," said Dr Joseph DiFranza, who led the research team.

If you fool around with cigarettes for a few weeks, you may be addicted for life.

 

How Does the Body Become Dependent on Nicotine?

Every time we light up, nicotine and other chemicals from cigarette smoke are absorbed in the body. Nicotine enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body through our veins. Nicotine affects many parts of the body; it changes how the body uses food (metabolism), causes our heart to beat faster, our pulse to quicken, it increases our blood pressure, and our veins begin to tighten causing blood flow throughout the body to become more difficult.

Nicotine works by stimulating our nervous system to release specific chemical messengers (hormones and neurotransmitters) that affect different parts of our brain and body. One hormone that nicotine affects is epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. When nicotine is inhaled, the buzz you feel is the release of epinephrine which stimulates the body and causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase, and makes you breathe harder. Nicotine also activates a specific part of your brain that makes you feel happy by stimulating the release of the hormone dopamine. The release of dopamine when nicotine is inhaled is thought to be the source of the pleasurable sensations you experience when smoking, which can include relaxation, a buzz, and relief of tension.

Once inhaled, nicotine is rapidly distributed throughout the brain within 10 seconds. The enjoyable feelings you experience from smoking occur very quickly, but after you’ve smoked a few times nicotine begins to weaken your ability to feel pleasure, causing you to need more nicotine in order to sustain the good feelings. This is the cycle of the smoking habit; in order to continue feeling pleasure from smoking, you must continue to smoke more cigarettes, more frequently.

 

 

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Updated October 2018