How many cigarettes does a person need to smoke a day to be considered addicted? The magic number in terms of nicotine addiction has been ten cigarettes a day … until now.
According to a study conducted by USCF’s Mark Rubinstein, MD, five cigarettes a day is a more accurate threshold for nicotine addiction. Casual smokers who smoke less than ten a day may claim they are not addicted, but Rubinstein’s study reveals addiction may only be a puff away for them.
The study also suggests treatment may be beneficial for casual smokers who may not have been able to receive help in the past.
In the study, Rubinstein used two groups of teenagers. The individuals in one group smoked fewer than five cigarettes a day, while the other group consisted of non-smokers. The teens were shown multiple smoking-related images, such as a person holding a cigarette, and also neutral images, such as a ball-point pen.
When the teenage smokers viewed the smoking-related images, the regions of the brain indicating pleasure and addiction showed the same activity as those of heavy smoking adults. The non-smoking teenagers, however, showed no reaction to the smoking images.
As Rubinstein explained in an article about the study, “This suggests that even at this early stage, the smokers are already demonstrating cue reactivity in the brain, which probably represents developmental changes from repeated smoking.” These early stages of smoking are what lead to lifelong addictions.
Cue reactivity is when the brain releases dopamine after seeing images of certain drugs. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that plays a key role in controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. The dopamine response is similar to the type of response when the person actually uses the drug.
What Does This Mean?
From this study, you can infer a few key points. For starters, the early stages of smoking can lead to lifelong addictions. When people begin smoking early in life, they are also more likely to continue that habit and become lifelong smokers. This means you don’t need to smoke as much as we once thought to demonstrate signs of addiction.
What We Need to Do
Even though, in the past, five or fewer cigarettes a day wasn’t considered an addiction, we need to redefine the criteria for addiction. The bottom line is no amount of smoking is safe. Any time you smoke, you’re setting yourself up for a lifelong struggle and potentially serious health issues.
We need to identify any teen smoking as dangerous, and then help the teen quit. This means we need to communicate openly with our teenagers and share studies like these with them. We also need to know that even a few cigarettes a day for adults is a few too many.
Hopefully, this information will help deter young people from smoking experimentation and give everyone a better picture of the true nature of nicotine addiction. Whether you are a heavy smoker or only smoke two cigarettes a day, now is the time to take control of your addiction. Don’t wait until two turns into ten or more cigarettes.