“Nicotine is sort of a catalyst for addiction,” said Dr. Brad Lander, clinical director of addiction medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Lander works as a psychologist in the Talbot Hall out-patient drug treatment center in Columbus and recently spoke to the Record-Herald about drug dependency disorders, addiction and genetics.
Lander said scientists now believe that nicotine affects a person’s genetics and “speeds up the process” of addiction.
There is no gene for addiction. However, Lander said a person’s environment and substance use can influence gene expression that would otherwise remain recessive.
One study at Washington University reported that when exposed to nicotine, proteins carried in the genes of some people activated to bind to brain cell receptors and influenced addiction.
The scientists said the protein appeared in the genetic profiles of people who tried cigarettes and became addicted, but did not appear in the genetic profiles of people who were dependant on cigarettes for a time but never developed an addiction.
Scientists admit more research is needed to substantiate the studies linking nicotine to addiction, but do believe nicotine creates neural pathways in the brain for addiction.
“We do know that recovery from substance abuse disorders is almost double for people who don’t use or stopped using nicotine than for people who continue to smoke,” said Lander.
In Lander’s practice, he encourages patients to stop smoking cigarettes as part of their drug treatment plans.
“That makes a big difference in recovery,” said Lander.
Lander said a lot of times the nicotine came first.
“When we talk about ‘gateway’ drugs, the only real verified gateway drug is nicotine,” said Lander.
For more information about genetic expression and nicotime addiction, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse website at https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2009/12/studies-link-family-genes-to-nicotine-addiction
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