New Findings and Possible Solutions
There is no question that teenage vape use is on the rise. We’ve seen it in our clinics and the results are, well, just plain alarming. Why alarming? We’ve personally seen high functioning teens start vaping and within a year look schizophrenic or bipolar. Their brain maps look incredibly dysfunctional and there is no family history or other cause we can attribute to such a rapid decline in function. Although this is anecdotal, we have observed more damage in the female brain. Rodent studies are now finding brain damage following vaping in brain centers associated with memory, executive functioning, mood, and cognitive function. Females may be less fertile after vaping and vaping may affect their future children.
The chemical composition of vape, flavorings, and accessibility makes it more addictive than regular cigarettes. Yet when I ask parents about their concern about vaping, many shrug their shoulders and tell me it seems like it would be a safer alternative to cigarettes, and many downplay the effects it is having on their teenager’s mental and physical functioning. Here are some things to consider about vaping:
Vaping seems to be more addictive than regular cigarettes for several reasons. Ever tried smoking? The taste is pretty off-putting at first and something that people need to get over to continue using until they are addicted. Other deterrents to using traditional cigarettes are the social stigma and the fact that you can’t just light up a cigarette whenever and wherever you want without someone detecting it.
With e-cigarettes, the flavorings add to the addiction potential. The flavors seem to make the experience more enjoyable and the smoker doesn’t have to smell like an ashtray after use.
Vape liquid isn’t just nicotine. The heating element in e-cigarettes converts liquid with multiple chemicals inside. The resulting could be harm beyond what we have seen before in cigarettes. And this may be playing out in some of the research on vaping.
Nicotine and The Developing Brain
We’ve known for years that nicotine damages the developing brain. And the brain isn’t fully developed until around age 25. Users of nicotine in any form experience an altering of their neurotransmitter activity and in some cases nicotine can actually cause a brain to look ADHD even if there was no prior diagnosis. The CDC reports that 99% of all e-cigarettes sold in the United States contained nicotine and some labels did not disclose nicotine as an ingredient.
At our clinics, we have not seen so much damage from cigarette use as we have with vaping. We are not exactly sure why we are seeing such a deterioration in brain function in otherwise healthy teenagers. We anticipate that over the next 2-5 years, more studies will emerge that can show differentiation in the chemicals in vape that may be the cause of these findings. We find that females using vape for about a year will need approximately 2 months of active neurofeedback or neuromodulation to treat the effects of vaping. However, these teens usually are failing to function in their daily lives. Many have failing grades and become withdrawn, depressed, and anxious.
Gender Differences in Motivation To Quit
Quitting vaping after even a few weeks of use can be a very difficult task. We recommend parents try to motivate their teens to stop vaping using some key findings from the National Institutes of Health research about gender differences in attitudes about smoking. There may be gender differences that play into a motivation to quit. Teen boys may initiate quitting due to health concerns, whereas teen girls might consider quitting based on family and friend recommendation.
Males and females may also have different reasons for vaping. Males may want to engage in vaping to enjoy it, whereas females might want to use vaping for stress reduction, mood management, and weight loss. Understanding these factors can help professionals use substitutions to encourage quitting. For example, an Alpha-stim can be used for anxiety and mood in place of e-cigarettes. Non-pharmacological treatments can be used to substitute the perceived benefits of the vaping and to make it easier for someone to quit permanently. We have successfully used neurofeedback and EMDR addiction state protocols to reduce cravings and the need for chemical substances, and then we start individuals on a cessation program. The idea isn’t to tell someone they have to just stop doing something when it’s very, very hard. The idea is to improve brain function so that quitting is easier and that’s when success rates can be very high in what can seem like an otherwise impossible task.
How to Get Help:
Are you concerned about your teen’s vaping? Have you seen differences in their personality, motivation, or academic progress? We are here to help. Call 623-824-5051 or complete our patient inquiry form.