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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Teen Tobacco Dependence Should Be Treated With ‘Same Urgency as Other Drugs,’ Georgia Study Says

Substance abuse treatments that target main issues such as serious drug and alcohol addiction are not frequently being used to also wean adolescents from tobacco, a University of Georgia College of Public Health study finds.


[Photo: Dr. Jessica Muilenburg]

Tobacco addiction in adolescents is oftentimes an overlooked issue because it doesn’t carry with it the stigma that alcohol abuse and other serious drugs do, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Jessica Muilenburg, an associate professor at Georgia and health promotion and behavior graduate coordinator.

What most don’t realize is that tobacco, she said, “changes the chemistry of your brain and makes you crave whatever your drug of choice is, which is why kicking the tobacco habit with the rest of your addictions is important.

“It’s a drug, but it’s not treated in the same capacity and with the same urgency as other drugs. We are saying to treat it with the same urgency, because relapse is less likely if you treat the nicotine as well.”

Additionally, they found that a majority of these counselors do have the knowledge to implement tobacco cessation treatments and the ability to prescribe medications—such as the patch or nicotine chewing gum—to help adolescents quit. However, counselors don’t typically do so for the adolescents they are seeing.

“Their primary goal is getting them off of alcohol and other drugs, but if we can get them off of all drugs, including tobacco, it will be more beneficial for them in the future,” Dr. Muilenburg said.

Dr. Muilenburg has focused much of her research on tobacco use in adolescents and young adults-considering treatment factors that might help them beat these behaviors permanently. For this study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, she and her co-authors looked at addiction treatments for adolescents and young adults ages 12-28.

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