Smoking causes cognitive impairment in adolescents

February 01, 2005

New Haven, Conn.--Adolescents who smoke show impairment of memory and other cognitive functions, according to a Yale study in Biological Psychiatry.

More than 4.5 million teenagers smoke cigarettes in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Leslie Jacobsen, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and her research team tested working memory. This form of memory is used when keeping information in mind and manipulating it. They also evaluated verbal learning and memory, attention, mood, symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings in 41 adolescent daily smokers and 32 nonsmokers. The groups were similar in age, gender and education.

"Adolescent smokers were found to have impairments in accuracy of working memory performance," Jacobsen said. Other studies show adult non-smokers and smokers have comparable focused, sustained and selective attention, and improved working memory, suggesting enhancement of performance by nicotine.

Male adolescents as a group begin smoking at an earlier age than female smokers and were significantly more impaired during tests of selective and divided attention, she said. All of the adolescent smokers also showed further disruption of working memory when they stopped smoking.

"These findings underscore the importance of efforts aimed at preventing smoking initiation in adolescents. They also show adolescents who are trying to quit smoking may need additional educational support," Jacobsen said.
-end-
The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Co-authors include John Krystal, M.D., W. Einar Mencl, Michael Westerveld, Stephen Frost, and Kenneth Pugh, of Yale.

Citation: Biological Psychiatry, Vol. 57; pp 56-66 (January 2005)

Yale University

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