Genetics may help reveal why some teens become addicted so quickly to smoking cigarettes, according to new research.
For the study, researchers analyzed over 40 years of research data to develop a genetic risk score for heavy smokers. Then they screened the genes of over 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38 to see whether those with high risk score became addicted to cigarettes more rapidly as teens — and whether they had a harder time quitting as adults.
The findings showed that teens with a “high-risk” genetic profile who tried smoking were 24 percent more likely to become daily smokers by the age of 15 and 43 percent more likely to smoke a pack a day by the time they were 18.
These high-risk teens were also 27 percent more likely to become addicted to nicotine and 22 percent more likely to fail quit-smoking attempts as adults, when compared to teens with lower scores.
Participants with high-risk gene scores also smoked almost 7,300 more cigarettes than the average smoker by age 38.
Interestingly, an individual’s genetic risk profile did not predict whether they would try cigarettes. Almost 70 percent of study participants had tried smoking.
Those who did try cigarettes and had a high-risk gene score were more likely to become heavy smokers. The risk score was a greater predictor of becoming a smoker than family history.
Based on the findings, certain genes seemed to enhance the potential for developing an addiction to cigarettes. Many of the study participants had tried smoking cigarettes at the age of 15, but most of them did not go on to become heavy smokers.
There was no link found between “high risk” genes and becoming a heavy smoker when people began smoking as adults as opposed to during their teen years. The teen years appear to be a more vulnerable period for addiction susceptibility.
It seems that genetic risks during adolescence may be a vital factor in whether teen smokers become adult smokers, suggesting the possibility of early intervention.
The notion that there is a “window” of time in which health care providers can potentially intervene and prevent a teen smoker from turning into a heavy adult smoker has important implications from a public health standpoint.
Source: JAMA Psychiatry