Risk factorsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Anyone who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is at risk of becoming dependent on tobacco and nicotine. Most people begin smoking during childhood or adolescence. The younger you begin smoking, the greater the chance that you'll become a heavy smoker as an adult.
Children who grow up with parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers. Children with friends who smoke also are more likely to try cigarettes.
Other factors that influence nicotine dependence include:
- Genetics. The genes you inherit play a role in some aspects of nicotine dependence. For example, the likelihood that you will start smoking and keep smoking may be partly inherited. Some people experiment with smoking and don't experience pleasure, so they never become smokers. Other people develop dependence very quickly. Some "social smokers" can smoke just once in a while, and yet another group of smokers can stop smoking with no withdrawal symptoms. These differences can be explained by genetic factors that influence how receptors on the surface of your brain's nerve cells respond to nicotine.
- Depression, other mental illness and substance abuse. People who have depression, schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness are more likely to be smokers. Smoking may be a form of self-medication for these disorders. People who abuse alcohol and illegal drugs also are more likely to be smokers.
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