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How Long Does it Take to Get
Hooked on Smoking?

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 Smoking    Common Withdrawal Symptoms

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.

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 adolescence.

"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 month."

 



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 craving.

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 College.

 

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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Benefits of Quitting Smoking    Common Withdrawal Symptoms  

 Ingredients Found in Cigarettes

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Updated October 2019