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Smoking Addiction Begins in Teens

Update Date: Aug 01, 2012 08:14 AM EDT

A study reveals that teenagers addicted to smoking have different brains. The study claims that the response of adolescents smoking only two cigarettes a day are the same as heavily addicted adult smokers.

This suggests, according to the study by UCSF's Mark Rubinstein, MD, that the threshold for nicotine addiction in teenagers is perhaps much lower than the common notion.

"Most smoking cessation programs require that you smoke at least ten cigarettes per day," says Rubinstein, associate professor and adolescent medicine specialist in the Department of Pediatrics at UCSF's School of Medicine according to Medical Xpress. "Below five [cigarettes per day], it's very controversial as to whether you are even addicted, even if you are smoking daily." 

For the study, a group of teenagers who smoked less than five cigarettes a day and another group of adolescent non-smokers were shown random assortment of smoking imagery - someone holding a cigarette, for example - and neutral imagery - someone holding a pen.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Rubinstein found out which areas of the brain in the teenagers got activated when they watched those images.  Rubinstein particularly focused on the mesolimbic dopamine system, which is associated with reward and addiction.

 "We know that when people become addicted to any kind of drug, the visual cues or images of those drugs can provoke a dopamine response similar to that invoked by using the drug itself," explains Rubinstein. This response is known as cue reactivity, stated the press release. 

It was found that adolescents, who smoked lesser than 5 cigarettes a day had the same parts if the brain 'lit up' as that of adult heavy smokers. However, there was no difference seen in the responses of the non-smoking teens. 


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