Author: Shernide Delva
There’s a new study that explains why people continue to smoke cigarettes after their first try. As a non-smoker, this researched sparked my interest. I’ve been known to ask my friends that smoke why they picked up the habit of smoking cigarettes. Usually, I tend to get a variety of answers. Some say it was due to social pressure, others are influenced by their family and a few are unable to come up with a clear answer to why they started smoking. It just sort of happened.
Cigarette smoking is a habit that usually takes a few tries to acquire a liking to. For many, the first time is not enjoyable at all. It can result in a coughing fit and the taste can be quite an adjustment. The act of smoking is not like other drugs that are instantly enjoyable. The mind has to produce a craving for nicotine before cigarettes become as addictive as they are.
The study examined and characterized the body’s reaction to the first tiniest hits of nicotine. Researchers believe the study will lay the groundwork for future revelations about genetic and biological factors that make people vulnerable to nicotine addiction.
Essentially the study explored the idea of nicotine “reinforcement” and explained how some people are more vulnerable to nicotine addiction than others. Addiction researcher Roland R. Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine had this to say about the study:
“From an addiction point of view, nicotine is a very unusual drug. When you give people nicotine for the first time, most people don’t like it. It’s different from many other addictive drugs, for which most people say they enjoy the first experience and would try it again.”
Griffith’s explained in the article how he wondered why some people are nicotine avoiders while others are nicotine choosers. He theorized that there might be a genetic or metabolic vulnerability that makes people fall into one category over the other.
This is not the first time this idea has been explored. For decades, scientists have struggled to understand why so many people still become addicted to cigarettes. Personally, I do not hold anything against someone’s personal choice to smoke cigarettes. However, with so much attention on the dangers of cigarette smoking, why is it still fairly popular? The reason this interests me more than other addictions is because cigarettes usually are not enjoyable the first time someone tries. So why the second and third attempt? Why the commitment?
In an attempt to solve the mystery, Griffiths and his team explored the conditions under which nicotine reinforcement properties take hold of someone who had never smoked prior. Rather than use the same dose of nicotine equivalent to what’s in a cigarette, nicotine patch or gum— the team decided to use doses that were ten times lower, barely of what is needed to notice nicotine effects such as relaxation, energy, better focus and change sin mood.
The researchers developed a double-blind study in which volunteers would either be given nicotine or a placebo. The goal was to find out what conditions would people become familiar to the mood altering effect of very low doses of nicotine.
“We attempted to develop conditions in which people could learn to become familiar with the subtle mood-altering effects of very low doses of nicotine, with the goal of uncovering the reinforcing effects of nicotine,” he says.
For the study, 18 healthy men and women who had never or barely ever smoked were given two identical-looking pills labeled A and B each day for several weeks. The volunteers were told the pills could contain any number of substances ranging from caffeine, sugar, chamomile, ginseng, kava or nicotine.
Each volunteer was given one very-low dose nicotine pill at random intervals throughout the day. Every two hours, the volunteers were given different pills without being told what they were. They were to report changes in energy levels, concentration, drowsiness and jitters after each pill.
After ten days, they were given the same pills again, this time unlabeled. Eventually the volunteers could differentiate between the pills. Then they were asked if they would choose to take either pill A or pill B and to explain their decision.
The results were surprising. Half of the users chose the nicotine pill saying it improved their concentration, alertness, stimulation and better mood. The other half chose the placebo saying the nicotine pill—although they did not know it contained nicotine—made them feel light-headed dizzy or sick. The volunteers either had a good or bad reaction to the nicotine.
The study could be one of the few to show that people who have never used will either be “avoiders” or “choosers” after beginning to smoke. Just like some people are prone to falling into addiction because of natural physiological factors.
“I hope our findings will point the way toward future interventions that prevent or treat nicotine addiction, a topic of increasing importance in light of the expanding marketing of electronic nicotine delivery devices — e-cigarettes — to youthful nicotine nonusers.”
Personally, I think I fell into that “avoider” category because the after first time I smoked cigarettes, I never touched them again. Smoking was not my cup of tea however many of my friend really enjoy the habit. Just like any addiction, people respond in different ways.
Learning about how other people are more vulnerable to addition allows for a better understanding of human behavior. Please seek help if you find yourself falling into substance abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-95-6135
By Cheryl Steinberg
Electronic cigarettes and vapes are a booming business and a fast-growing trend, having become a $2 billion per year industry since 2007. The main selling point of electronic smoking devices is that they are a safer alternative to traditional smoking. Now, that may be true but, only to the extent that getting hit in the head with a baseball bat is safer than being thrown off of a building; it doesn’t mean that e-cigs are actually safe.
There has already been some debate and preliminary research as to just how “safe” the ingredients, namely glycerin oil and formaldehyde, are given that the user inhales these through a device that heats the oil to an extreme temperature. In fact, more and more the use of vapes and e-cigs inside buildings and public spaces are being banned – an indication that there is concern of harms from second-hand smoke, just like with traditional cigarettes.
More Bad News for People Who Vape
Now, a new paper published in PLOS ONE by lead author Thomas Sussan from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that mice that were exposed to e-cig vapor had weaker immune systems than those mice that were not exposed to it.
“Our findings suggest that e-cigarettes are not neutral in terms of the effects on the lungs,” senior author Shyam Biswal said in a press release. “We have observed that they increase the susceptibility to respiratory infections in the mouse models. This warrants further study in susceptible individuals, such as COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] patients who have switched from cigarettes to e-cigarettes or to new users of e-cigarettes who may have never used cigarettes.”
The study looked at two groups of mice: one group was exposed to vapor from electronic cigarettes for two weeks, and the other breathed only fresh air. Next, each group – the vape-exposed one and the fresh air one – was separated into subgroups. The first group was exposed to Influenza A, the next was exposed to the pneumonia-causing bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, and the third group was not given any illness-causing microbes.
The mice that had been exposed to the vapor from the e-cigs had infections that were much more severe than the mice from the fresh air-breathing group, indicating a weakened immune response. For some of the mice, these infections were fatal. Further investigation into the mice revealed physiological changes that had taken place in them.
“E-cigarette vapor alone produced mild effects on the lungs, including inflammation and protein damage,” Sussan explained. “However, when this exposure was followed by a bacterial or viral infection, the harmful effects of e-cigarette exposure became even more pronounced. The e-cigarette exposure inhibited the ability of mice to clear the bacteria from their lungs, and the viral infection led to increased weight loss and death indicative of an impaired immune response.”
Sussan added, “We were surprised by how high that number was, considering that e-cigarettes do not produce combustion products. Granted, it’s 100 times lower than cigarette smoke, but it’s still a high number of free radicals that can potentially damage cells.”
Free radicals in the body can alter DNA and have cancer-causing effects. With ordinary cigarettes, the smoker inhales toxins (400 to be exact, with 60 of those being known carcinogens), whereas electronic cigarettes produce a nicotine aerosol vapor that is inhaled by users. As for the lack of burning that takes place with traditional cigarettes, which can prevent some chemicals from being released, there are still a number of free radicals being introduced into the body via e-cigs and vapes.
Obviously, more study is needed on this subject in order to fully understand the effect of e-cigarettes on the user’s health as well as those who are exposed to second-hand vapor, and how it could contribute to disease. E-cigs and vapes hit the market about seven years ago, quickly becoming popular people wanting to quit smoking as well as with former smokers of traditional cigarettes. In 2013, it was reported that more teenagers had tried e-cigarettes than had tried traditional cigarettes, making it incredibly important to know what the real risks are, especially to young users.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, help is just a phone call away. We have Addiction Specialists available 24/7 to answer your questions, share resources, and get you pointed in the right direction. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 today.
Quitting smoking can not only help your health but it apparently can help your wallet in more ways than one. Smoking is an expensive habit to begin with. In some states, a pack will cost you more than $11 a pop. But a working paper published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta also reports smokers earn an average 17.5%. less than their non-smoking colleagues.
The report finds smokers make an annual average income of $27, 248, compared to nonsmokers’ average salary of $33,820. The study also notes that the frequency of lighting does not correlate with the wage gap.
The difference is due to a number of factors, one of which is that nonsmokers tend to have a higher education level. In addition, employers may have a bias against smokers as employees that smoke tend to increase health care costs and can create tension in the office over smoke breaks. In an environment where employers are trying to cut costs wherever they can, more and more employers are screening for smokers pre-employment and are offering counseling and wellness programs for smokers to kick the habit.
The good news? People who once smoked and have quit earn more money than both nonsmokers and current smokers.
“It takes a special person to quit an addictive behaviour, and there is a higher reward for smoking cessation than not ever starting it,” said M Melinda Pitts, one of the two economists responsible for the study.
“I think the qualities of persistence, patience and everything else that goes along with being able to quit are valuable to employers,” Pitts wrote in the study.
Thinking about quitting? Click here to read about how our own Rhea Rosier is using meditation to kick the habit.
And if you, or someone you love, is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.
Your Brain on Drugs: Nicotine
Nicotine is one the most heavily used and addictive drugs in the United States. Nicotine is also the leading most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Cigarette smoking makes up 90% of lung cancer in the United States, and about 38,000 deaths per year can be contributed to secondhand smoke. Most cigarettes in the United States today contain about 10 milligrams or more of nicotine. The average smoker takes in 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine per cigarette when inhaling.
What is nicotine?
Nicotine is one of the 4,000 chemicals found in the smoke form of tobacco products. Nicotine is the primary ingredient that acts on the brain. Smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco and snuff also contain many toxins including high levels of nicotine. Nicotine is a naturally occurring colorless liquid that turns brown when it is burned. Nicotine also takes on the odor of tobacco when exposed to air.
Nicotine is absorbed through the skin and mucosal lining of the nose and mouth or in the lungs. Nicotine reaches its peak levels in the bloodstream and brain rapidly depending on how it is taken. Cigarette smoking results in nicotine reaching the brain within ten seconds. Nicotine is very addictive which is why those who smokers tend to do it regularly. Addiction is known as a compulsive drug seeking and uses even at risk of negative health consequences. Most smokers know that nicotine and tobacco is harmful and a lot of them try to quit to no avail.
Nicotine and Acetylcholine
Once nicotine reaches the brain, it triggers a series of responses that alters the way cells in the brain communicate with each other.
Nicotine mimics one of the major neurotransmitters in the brain called acetylcholine. Nicotine acts just like acetylcholine, by binding to receptors that increase the electrical activity of neurons, resulting in more signals transmitted to neighboring neurons. Because nicotine binds to the same receptors that bind acetylcholine, the acetylcholine receptor is often referred to as a nicotinic receptor.
However, when one uses a tobacco product or another nicotine containing product, there is more nicotine available in the synaptic spaces compared to acetylcholine. The nicotine competes with acetylcholine to bind to the nicotinic receptors and it wins. Now, with more nicotinic receptors activated by nicotine, a more intense response is produced.
So while acetylcholine normally provides the just the right amount of alertness when it binds to its receptors, nicotine produces a much more intense response (increased alertness, pleasurable feelings) due to its higher concentrations at the acetylcholine receptors.
How nicotine affects the brain
- Nicotine causes a rapid release of adrenaline. This causes the smoker to feel a rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, rapid, or shallow breathing. Nicotine also blocks the release of the hormone insulin. Nicotine can also increase the metabolic rate slightly too. The brain is the most important aspect for nicotine. Nicotine causes an increased release of acetylcholine from the neurons in the brain. This leads to heightened activity in pathways in the brain. This makes nicotine give someone the ability to pay attention and have a faster reaction time. This is what causes nicotine to give people the feeling of working better.
- Nicotine also causes a release of glutamate. Glutamate is imperative in learning and memory. When nicotine is used it glutamate creates a memory of the good feelings you get while smoking and further increases the drive and desire to use nicotine.
- Nicotine also causes your brain to make more endorphins. Endorphins are small proteins that are the body’s natural pain killer. Endorphins can cause feelings of euphoria. This makes nicotine even more addictive without all the other added effects.
- Nicotine activates the circuitry that regulates feelings of pleasure; these are known as reward pathways. Nicotine increases the levels of dopamine in reward pathways. This enhances nicotine’s addicting potential. Smoking a cigarette rapidly distributes nicotine to the brain. In fact nicotine levels peak within 10 seconds of inhaling from a cigarette but then also decrease rapidly. This is what causes smokers to have the need to smoke repeatedly throughout the day.
Quitting nicotine is followed by withdrawal symptoms that can last up to a month or more. These symptoms can cause people to just end up smoking again. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually start in a few hours after the last cigarette and can include irritability, sleep disturbances, craving, cognitive and attention deficits, and increased appetite. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually peak within the first few days and will subside within a few weeks although for some people they can last much longer.
For some people, the feel, smell and sight of a cigarette and the ritual of obtaining, handling, lighting and smoking it are all associated with the pleasurable effects of smoking and can make withdrawal or craving worse. While nicotine gum and patches may alleviate the pharmacological aspects of withdrawal, cravings often persist.
More consequences of nicotine use
Nicotine and cigarette smoking has more consequences than those just on the brain. The medical consequences of nicotine result from the nicotine itself and how it is taken. Tobacco use accounts for 1/3rd of all cancers. Here are some other medical consequences due to nicotine and cigarette smoking:
- Lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema
- Worsening asthma symptoms
- Cancers of the mouth, kidney, esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach, pancreas, cervix, ureter, and bladder.
- Risk of heart disease including stroke, vascular disease, heart attack and aneurysm.
- Passive or secondary smoke increases risk for many diseases too.
If your loved one is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.