Researchers have pinpointed a gene that helps determine if an individual is at a risk for developing a nicotine addiction. Generally, when smoking a cigarette for the first time, people either experience a pleasant buzz or a nauseating cough.
The scientists found that people who have the less common “rs16969968” form of the nicotine receptor gene “CHRNA5” are much more likely to experience a pleasurable buzz than people who have the gene’s more common form. Experiments with 435 subjects also showed that, as you might expect, people who smoke regularly are much more likely (eight times more) to have had a positive first smoking experience than non-smokers who have tried a cigarette at least once.
The scientists concluded that this gene variant causes some people to have an increased susceptibility to nicotine addiction, a lifelong smoking habit, and an increased risk of lung cancer and other health problems.
“The finding of a genetic association with pleasurable early smoking experiences may help explain how people get addicted – and, of course, once addicted, many will keep smoking for the rest of their lives,” said Ovide Pomerleau from the University of Michigan, who led the study.
He added that people can become addicted to nicotine in as little as a few days to a few months.
“The cigarette companies have told us for years that smoking is an individual choice,” he said. “But it is increasingly clear that, for some people, that isn’t really the case.”
The study is published in a recent issue of the journal Addiction, which is published by the Society for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol and other Drugs.