How long does it take to develop an addiction? Well, that depends. Some people indulge in smoking and drinking heavily, but then quit on a whim, apparently unaffected by their deadly grasp. Others take a single drink, or a single puff, and launch a lifelong addiction.
Scientists now believe they know why some people become instant addicts and others don't. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario point to a specific region in the brain responsible for controlling our sense of reward. Individual differences within this region appear to be responsible for one's tendency to become addicted.
"Nicotine interacts with a variety of neurochemical pathways within the brain to produce its rewarding and addictive effects," explains Dr. Steven Laviolette. "However, during the early phase of tobacco exposure, many individuals find nicotine highly unpleasant and aversive, whereas others may become rapidly dependent on nicotine and find it highly rewarding. We wanted to explore that difference."
Dr. Laviolette and his team were able to turn on and off the rewarding effect of nicotine in laboratory rats. Even though the rats had the equivalent of a pack-a-day addiction, by blocking certain receptors in the brain, the pleasant impact of nicotine disappeared. They were also able to lessen some of the withdrawal symptoms for the addicted rats.
Laviolette is hopeful further research will help them develop treatments for nicotine addiction in humans.
In the meantime, consider this: Are you a non-addict type, or are you a one-puff-equals-lifetime-addiction-type? And, since there's no way to know, is it really worth the risk to find out?To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the benefits of regular exercise, see this from the Mayo Clinic.