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Although several studies have reported that symptoms of nicotine dependence can occur after limited exposure to smoking, the majority of research on nicotine dependence has focused on adult smokers. Insufficient knowledge exists regarding the epidemiology and aetiology of nicotine dependence among adolescent smokers. The objective of the present study is to identify the effects of theoretically driven social and individual predictors of nicotine dependence symptom profiles in a population-based sample of adolescent smokers.
A longitudinal study among 6,783 adolescents (12 to 14 years old at baseline) was conducted. In the first and second year of secondary education, personality traits and exposure to smoking in the social environment were assessed. Two and a half years later, adolescents' smoking status and nicotine dependence symptom profiles were assessed. A total of 796 adolescents were identified as smokers and included in the analyses.
At follow-up, four distinct dependence symptom profiles were identified: low cravings only, high cravings and withdrawal, high cravings and behavioural dependence, and overall highly dependent. Personality traits of neuroticism and extraversion did not independently predict nicotine dependence profiles, whereas exposure to smoking in the social environment posed a risk for the initial development of nicotine dependence symptoms. However, in combination with environmental exposure to smoking, extraversion and neuroticism increased the risk of developing more severe dependence symptom profiles.
Nicotine dependence profiles are predicted by interactions between personal and environmental factors. These insights offer important directions for tailoring interventions to prevent the onset and escalation of nicotine dependence. Opportunities for intervention programs that target individuals with a high risk of developing more severe dependence symptom profiles are discussed.