Numbers don’t lie. According to recent studies, the use of e-cigarettes in teenagers has tripled in recent years, making them more popular among teens than traditional cigarettes. What these teens don’t know, however, is that nicotine use in teen brains can harm development.
How does nicotine affect the teenage brain?
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (https://www.drugabuse.gov/), brains are made up of billions of nerve cells. They communicate by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each neurotransmitter is like a key that fits into a special “lock,” called a receptor, located on the surface of nerve cells. When a neurotransmitter finds its receptor, it activates the receptor’s nerve cell.
The nicotine molecule is shaped like a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine and its receptors are involved in many functions, including muscle movement, breathing, heart rate, learning, and memory. They also cause the release of other neurotransmitters and hormones that affect your mood, appetite, memory, and more. When nicotine gets into the brain, it attaches to acetylcholine receptors and mimics the actions of acetylcholine.
Nicotine also activates areas of the brain that are involved in producing feelings of pleasure and reward. Recently, scientists discovered that nicotine raises the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the parts of the brain that produce feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine, which is sometimes called the pleasure molecule, is the same neurotransmitter that is involved in addictions to other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Researchers now believe that this change in dopamine may play a key role in all addictions. This may help explain why it is so hard for people to stop smoking.
Parents: It’s up to you to educate your children on the negative effects of nicotine and to set a good example for them. Don’t we want our children to live happy and healthy lives?