STUDY: Even ‘Light’ Smoking Can Be Addictive

A new study finds that even casual smokers can also be suffering from Tobacco Use Disorder, also known as nicotine addiction.

Tobacco use disorder is the most common substance use disorder in the United States. Approximately 60% to 80% of current smokers fulfill classic criteria for drug dependence; e.g., they have difficulty stopping, have withdrawal when they stop, are tolerant and continue despite knowledge of personal harm. – from the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.

“In the past, some considered that only patients who smoke around 10 cigarettes per day or more were addicted, and I still hear that sometimes,” said study co-author Jonathan Foulds, professor of public health sciences and psychiatry and behavioral health at Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pa.

“But this study demonstrates that many lighter smokers, even those who do not smoke every day, can be addicted to cigarettes,” Foulds said in a Penn State news release. “It also suggests that we need to be more precise when we ask about cigarette smoking frequency.”

For the study, the researchers examined data from more than 6,700 smokers who had been assessed to see if they met the DSM-5 criteria for Tobacco Use Disorder.

Researchers also found that nicotine addiction increased with frequency. While 85% of daily cigarette smokers were addicted to nicotine; thirty-five percent of those who smoked one to four cigarettes per day were moderately or severely addicted, and that number rose to 74% for those who smoked 21 cigarettes or more each day.

“Surprisingly, almost two-thirds of those smoking only one to four cigarettes per day were addicted, and around a quarter of those smoking less than weekly were addicted,” Foulds said.

Study co-author Jason Oliver, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, N.C., said doctors should ask patients about their smoking behavior with these results in mind. That even lighter smokers, those who smoke fewer than 4 cigarettes a day, may be in need of treatment.

The findings were published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


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