A study into why teens become addicted to smoking more easily than adults and why adolescents are more prone to substance abuse has been carried out.
In an evaluation for Faculty of 1000 Biology, Neil Grunberg described the study, as “fascinating” and suggested it “may have implications to help understand why adolescents are particularly prone to drug abuse”.
The study looked at dopamine levels in adolescent and adult rats after nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine increases the level of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and well being.
The authors found that the withdrawal signs (physical and neurochemical) seen in adolescent rats were fewer than those observed in adults.
The study provided previously unknown mechanisms as to why there are differences in nicotine withdrawal between adolescent and adult rats.
The key here, Grunberg stated, is “age alters [neurological] systems and interactions relevant to nicotine”.
The reason that adolescents are prone to drug abuse (in this case, nicotine) is that they have increased sensitivity to its rewarding effects and do not display the same negative withdrawal effects as adults do, due to an underdeveloped dopamine-producing system.
Grunberg said since rats are not subject to cultural influences, “rat studies of nicotine ... have provided valuable insights that have led to practical behavioural and pharmacological interventions”.
“These findings might also be relevant to other addictive and abuse drugs,” he added.
The study has been published by Natividad et al. in Synapse journal.