Here’s Why Nicotine Use Among Teens Increases the Risk for Alcohol Abuse in Adulthood

Researchers have long known that people who use nicotine during their teen years are more likely to drink higher amounts of alcohol in adulthood. A new study published in the latest issue of Cell Reports reveals more about how nicotine can serve as a gateway drug to increase the risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

How is Teen Nicotine Use Linked to Adult Alcohol Abuse?

alcohol abuse

Reports show that rates of smoking and nicotine use have increased among middle school and high school students in recent years. More than twice as many teens use e-cigarettes compared to regular cigarettes. Evidence also shows that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to switch to using regular cigarettes at some point.

Researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania set out to learn more about the risks of nicotine vaping and e-cigarette use among teens, and how these behaviors can lead to alcohol abuse. The researchers learned that exposure to nicotine at an early age causes the brain to rewire itself and change the circuitry in the brain’s reward pathways. More specifically, nicotine use interferes with GABA — a brain neurotransmitter that helps regulate feelings of reward and pleasure.

In teens, nicotine exposure alters brain function in a way that influences teens to seek more reward in the form of drugs and alcohol. Researchers tested their theory on rats, and found that teenage rats provided with daily doses of nicotine were more likely to seek alcohol and consume higher amounts than rats that didn’t receive nicotine, or that received nicotine only during adulthood. In future studies, the researchers will test whether early nicotine use increases the risk for addiction to other substances including cocaine and morphine.

Tips on Encouraging Teens to Avoid Nicotine Use

Teenagers experiment with nicotine for many of the same reasons they experiment with drugs and alcohol — to relieve boredom, satisfy their curiosity, and to fit in with peers. But many teens lack education surrounding how nicotine, drugs, and alcohol increase the risk for health problems later in life. The human brain continues developing until around the age of 25, which is why early exposure to nicotine and other drugs has the ability to change brain structure.

Here are tips that can help you prevent your teen from using nicotine at an early age:

  • Set a positive example by not smoking around your children, and get help to quit smoking if you are addicted to nicotine.
  • Explain to your children that nicotine is addictive, and can change brain structure.
  • Introduce your children to healthier outlets in the form of sports and hobbies they can turn to at times of stress.
  • Explain that cigarettes and e-cigarettes contain a number of chemicals and additives that are harmful to their physical and psychological health.
  • Point out that cigarettes can affect personal appearance and hygiene by causing bad breath, smelly hair and clothes, and premature aging.
  • Explain that nicotine serves as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances due to the way it interacts with the brain to increase the risk for addiction.

Helping Your Teen Overcome Drug and Alcohol Abuse

If your child or teen has become addicted to drugs and alcohol, understand there are many treatment centers that offer specialized programs geared at youth. These programs teach children how to become more confident and knowledgeable about how to handle themselves in situations that could lead to drug and alcohol abuse, such as facing peer pressure at a party. Youth addiction treatment programs also allow teens to bond with peers who face similar struggles so they can make new sober friends and learn unique tricks for staying clean as they finish working their way through school and college.

Drug and alcohol addiction can be safely and effectively treated using detoxification and therapy. Family therapy is available to help teens and their families build a healthier, more powerful family dynamic that may have suffered on behalf of addiction.

Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-351-3840(Who Answers?) to find a drug detox center near you. Our experienced drug abuse counselors will discuss all your available treatment options, and help you find a treatment center ready to help you or your teen successfully overcome addiction.

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