May 27, 2020

Study Examines Nicotine ‘Choosers’ and ‘Avoiders’

A study recently published in the journal Psychopharmacology has found that some people are more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine than others. Researchers did this by examining the reported effects of a low dose of nicotine. 

Nictoine is unique among addictive substances, because most people do not enjoy their first experience with the drug. What makes some people choose to continue using despite that is a mystery to scientists.

“There are definitely some people who are nicotine avoiders and others who are nicotine choosers, and there are probably genetic or metabolic vulnerabilities that make people fall into one group or the other,” said study author Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

The study offered 18 adults who were not nicotine users a pill, which they were told may contain sugar, nicotine, other substances or be a placebo. The participants were asked to moniter their reactions and guess whether they were taking nicotine or the placebo. 

“We attempted to develop conditions in which people could learn to become familiar with the subtle mood-altering effects of very low doses of nicotine, with the goal of uncovering the reinforcing effects of nicotine,” Griffiths explained.

Half of the participants were able to routinely identify the nicotine, citing improved concentration, alertness, energy and mood. The other half were unable to identify it accurately and described their reaction to nicotine in negative terms. The study team said this implies that when it comes to nicotine susceptibility, some people are “avoiders” while others are “choosers.”

Griffiths hopes that the study can help researchers understand how and why some people become hooked on nicotine. 



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