The Great American Smokeout on Nov. 15 will be a day to contemplate change for adults addicted to tobacco and nicotine. We all know that smoking causes crippling cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory disease. As adults, we make our choices.
What we may not be aware of are new studies focused on the effects of nicotine on the developing brains of children.
A recent report by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) shows that teen smoking may be linked to brain damage, alcohol and drug use and mental illness.
“The nicotine in tobacco products poses a significant danger of structural and chemical changes in developing brains that can make teens more vulnerable to alcohol and other drug addiction and to mental illness,” according to Tobacco: The Smoking Gun, a new white paper released this week by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
CASA's original analysis of data finds that teens who smoke are nine times more likely to meet the medical criteria for past year alcohol abuse and dependence and thirteen times more likely to meet the medical criteria for abuse and dependence on an illegal drug than teens who don't smoke.
In a comparison of 12-17 years olds who don't smoke to those who do, CASA found that teen smokers are more than five times more likely to binge drink, 13 times more likely to use marijuana and nearly seven times more likely to use other illegal drugs.
They also found that among teens ages 12-17, twice as many smokers as nonsmokers suffered from symptoms of depression in the past year. Teens who reported early initiation of smoking were more likely to experience serious feelings of hopelessness, depression and worthlessness. The report also notes that smoking at a young age is related to panic attacks and general anxiety disorders.
These findings sound an alarm for parents, teachers, pediatricians and others responsible for children's health that smoking by teens may well signal the fire of alcohol and other drug abuse and mental illness due to neurological changes that are just now being examined to better understand nicotine's effect on the brain.