All it takes is one
cigarette to get addicted to smoking!
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 in central
Massachusetts for a year and tracked their smoking habits.
Benefits of Quitting
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
If you fool around with cigarettes for a
few weeks, you may be addicted for life.
Inhaling from just 1
cigarette can lead to nicotine addiction
Kids show signs of addiction almost immediately
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL
WORCESTER, Mass. -- A new study published in the Archives of
Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine shows that 10 percent of
youth who become hooked on cigarettes are addicted within two
days of first inhaling from a cigarette, and 25 percent are
addicted within a month. The study found that adolescents who
smoke even just a few cigarettes per month suffer withdrawal
symptoms when deprived of nicotine, a startling finding that
is contrary to long-held beliefs that only people with
established smoking habits of at least five cigarettes per day
experience such symptoms.
The study monitored 1,246 sixth-grade students in six
Massachusetts communities over four years. Students were
interviewed frequently about smoking and symptoms of
addiction, such as difficulty quitting, strong urges to smoke,
or nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as cravings,
restlessness, irritability, and trouble concentrating. Of
those who were hooked, half were already addicted by the time
they were smoking seven cigarettes per month. As amazing as it
may seem, some youth find they are unable to quit smoking
after just a few cigarettes. This confirms an earlier study by
the same researchers.
Ingredients Found in Cigarettes
Recent research has revealed that the nicotine from one
cigarette is enough to saturate the nicotine receptors in the
human brain. "Laboratory experiments confirm that nicotine
alters the structure and function of the brain within a day of
the very first dose. In humans, nicotine-induced alterations
in the brain can trigger addiction with the first cigarette,"
commented Joseph R. DiFranza, MD, professor of family medicine
& community health at the University of Massachusetts Medical
School and leader of the UMMS research team. "Nobody expects
to get addicted from smoking one cigarette." Many smokers
struggle for a lifetime trying to overcome nicotine addiction.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many as
6.4 million children who are living today will die prematurely
as adults because they began to smoke cigarettes during
"While smoking one cigarette will keep withdrawal symptoms
away for less than an hour in long-time smokers, novice
smokers find that one cigarette suppresses withdrawal for
weeks at a time," explained Dr. DiFranza. "One dose of
nicotine affects brain function long after the nicotine is
gone from the body. The important lesson here is that youth
have all the same symptoms of nicotine addiction as adults do,
even though they may be smoking only a few cigarettes per
Symptoms of nicotine addiction can appear when youth are
smoking as little as one cigarette per month. At first, one
cigarette will relieve the craving produced by nicotine
withdrawal for weeks, but as tolerance to nicotine builds, the
smoker finds that he or she must smoke ever more frequently to
cope with withdrawal.
According to DiFranza, the addiction-related changes in the
brain caused by nicotine are permanent and remain years after
a smoker has quit. This explains why one cigarette can trigger
an immediate relapse in an ex-smoker. It also explains why an
ex-smoker who relapses after many years of abstinence cannot
keep the craving away by smoking one cigarette per month.
Unlike the newly addicted novice smoker, a newly relapsed
smoker must smoke several cigarettes each day to cope with the
The study was supported by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse and appears in the July issue of the Archives of
Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. According to the National
Institutes of Health, smoking remains the leading preventable
cause of death in the United States, accounting for
approximately 440,000 deaths annually.
DiFranza worked on this study with UMMS colleagues Judith K.
Ockene, PhD, Judith A. Savageau, MPH, Kenneth Fletcher, PhD,
Lori Pbert, PhD, Jennifer Hazelton, BA, Karen Friedman, BA,
Gretchen Dussault, BA, and Connie Wood, MSW; Jennifer
O'Loughlin, PhD, of McGill University; Ann D. McNeill, PhD, of
St. George's Hospital Medical School at the University of
London; and Robert J. Wellman of both UMMS and Fitchburg State
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.