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How To Know if a Teen is Smoking

Learn the signs of your teenager smoking cigarettes so you can guide them away from this dangerous habit early on.

Did you know that 90% of smokers begin using tobacco before the age of 19? It is a fact that most smokers start smoking cigarettes between the ages of 13-18. For this reason, it is good for parents to be on the lookout for signs their teen has started smoking. By staying on top of this, parents can guide their child away from acquiring a deadly habit.

Negative Health Effects of Smoking Cigarettes

There is good reason for parents to be concerned about their teen smoking cigarettes. Ample research has shown for decades just how risky smoking is to our health. The CDC reports that smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., Their data show that 480,000 deaths each year are related to smoking.

The adverse effects of smoking are cumulative. The health risks are well known with data that confirms how smoking can harm every organ in the body. Over an extended time, the damage compounds and can cause these long-term effects:

  • Harms lung development. There is evidence that shows that lung size and capacity are reduced in teens that smoke. Later in life, they are at risk of developing lung conditions, such as COPD, asthma, or emphysema.
  • Heightened risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Smoking puts people at a higher risk of acquiring heart disease or having a stroke. The risk for cancer is very high. This includes cancer of the lung, mouth, tongue, and esophagus, in addition to other types of cancer.
  • Risks nicotine addiction. The earlier someone starts smoking, the greater their risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. Nicotine causes a sense of euphoria and relaxation. These effects are short-lived, which leads to compulsive (chain) smoking.

There are some telling data about the risk of becoming addicted to smoking. A study from UCSF showed that even just five cigarettes a day could cause a dopamine response in the brain. The study groups were shown images of cigarettes and images of pens, followed by an MRI.

The scans showed the smokers’ brains light up along neural pathways related to dopamine-releasing regions when viewing the cigarettes. In the nonsmoker group, this did not occur. This suggests that even a few cigarettes a day can start the addiction cycle in the brain.

Why Do Teens Smoke Cigarettes?

We can all recall how important it is to look “cool” during the teen years. The way that smoking is portrayed, as a cool adult behavior, can influence a teen to begin smoking. Also, peer pressure plays an outsize role in the choice to partake in smoking. Some teens may even smoke in hopes of controlling their weight.

Certain factors can increase the risk of teen smoking. These include:

  • They have parents, friends, or siblings who smoke.
  • They have access to cigarettes, as well as smoking areas offered at school and work.
  • They are not doing well in school, and are not engaged in school activities.
  • They use drugs or alcohol.

Cigarettes are not the only way that nicotine is delivered. Vaping has increased exponentially in recent years, causing teen cigarette use to drop. Also, smokeless tobacco and cigars are other means teens use to achieve the desired effects from nicotine.

Signs a Teenager is Smoking Cigarettes

What are the telltale signs parents can look out for in their teens? Aside from the obvious, like finding cigarettes in their room, backpack, or car, consider these signs:

  • They seem edgy. When someone becomes hooked on nicotine they will show signs of withdrawal. The teen may seem irritable, agitated, or angry, but after a short absence (when they smoke a cigarette) they’re calm.
  • They smell of smoke. The teen may reek of smoke. It may be clinging to their clothes, their hair, or their breath.
  • They cough often. Smoking can cause the throat to become dry and irritated. This can cause a chronic cough.
  • Their teeth become yellowed. Cigarettes can quickly cause staining of the teeth. The teen’s teeth may begin to take on a yellow tinge with ongoing smoking.

teen smoking

Is Vaping Nicotine Less Risky?

The practice of vaping is defined as using a battery operated electronic device to inhale vapors from a liquid substance. The substance can be a liquid form of nicotine or other substances that can be aerosolized into a mist and inhaled. Some choose to vape over smoking cigarettes because it is odorless, and have none of the tobacco byproducts that harm the lungs.

It turns out that vaping liquid nicotine can still harm the lungs. Harmful chemicals have been detected in vaping products. These have been shown to cause permanent lung damage.

The concentrated levels of nicotine in the liquid products are risky as this can cause blood pressure to spike. Also, vaping nicotine can open the door to vaping THC products, with all the risks that go with that.

What to Do if Your Teen is Addicted to Nicotine

If a parent becomes aware that their teen is addicted to nicotine, there is help available. There are teen-focused rehab programs that can help the teen overcome the addiction. Programs are offered in outpatient settings where the teen will engage in a series of classes, group therapy sessions, and one-on-one talk therapy.

Sometimes the teen will have added issues, such as a substance use disorder or a co-occurring mental health disorder. If so, he or she may benefit from a higher level of care. A residential program for teens will provide a broader scope of therapeutic techniques and activities. These programs will also create a custom treatment plan, and offer academic support as well.

Are there signs that your teenager is smoking cigarettes? If so, do not ignore the problem. Steer your teen away from this dangerous habit with the help of a mental health expert.

BNI Treatment Centers Provide Residential Mental Health Treatment for Teens

BNI Treatment Centers is a residential mental health and dual diagnosis treatment program for teens. BNI is a doctor-owned treatment program and is tailored to the specific needs of teens. If your teen has become addicted to nicotine products, give BNI a call today at (888) 522-1504.

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