Currently, in the United States, approximately 40 million people smoke cigarettes. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and illness in America, and cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke account for more than 480,000 deaths annually.
Washington State sits just below the national average; a recent study found that 15 percent of Washington residents smoke daily, or about 835,000 people.
Tobacco is a highly addictive drug, and most people pick up the habit before the age of 18. This is concerning to health professionals and parents alike, who often come up with the same question: “Does smoking lead to other drug use and addiction?”
The Link Between Smoking and Illicit Drug Use
Many studies conducted in both America and in Europe have looked for a causal link between tobacco use and the use of illicit drugs. The thinking is that since tobacco is a highly addictive drug habit, it could lead to other, more dangerous drug habits.
The reality is that not everybody who smokes tobacco begins using harder drugs, and not everybody that is addicted to harder drugs smokes tobacco.
However, there is a strong link that suggests that once people start smoking, especially youth, they can be more likely to try other drugs.
One study found that tobacco is often the first drug to which adolescents are exposed and is commonly followed by experimentation with cannabis. For years, researchers and health professionals have heralded cannabis as a ‘gateway drug’ leading youth to move on towards more harmful drug use, such as cocaine or heroin.
The study found that smoking tobacco could be considered a ‘gateway drug’ towards cannabis, pushing somebody onto the first step of that road towards harder drugs.
While tobacco use may play a role in leading somebody to experiment with harder drugs, does it necessarily follow that that person will become addicted?
The Nature of Addiction
To answer that question, it is important to understand what addiction is and how it works.
Today the health field recognizes addiction as a chronic brain disorder that disrupts the function and structure of the brain. There is a specific area of the brain that deals with all things considered pleasurable: good food, sex, gambling, shopping, and psychoactive drugs are all registered by the pleasure center, and they all have a similar effect.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that the brain releases when the pleasure center is triggered. Basically, it makes you feel good.
“All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine… The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release.” – How Addiction Hijacks the Brain, Harvard Mental Health Letter
Addiction occurs when your brain develops a tolerance to the dopamine being released and you continue to use the drug in order to ‘recapture’ that initial good feeling. When the use becomes compulsive, it is considered addictive.
Conclusion: Smoking May Lead to Harder Drug Use
While not explicitly linked, smoking tobacco can lead a person to experiment with harder drugs, according to several studies. Additionally, the nature of addiction is such that experimentation can quickly lead to addiction.
At the Recovery Village of Ridgefield, we understand the difficulties of your addiction, and we are here to help you work through them in a supportive, peaceful environment. Contact us today to take the first step.