Addiction Policy Forum Blog

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The newly discovered brain path linking nicotine to diabetes

By Mark Gold, MD on February 6, 2020

The 2019 Monitoring the Future survey finds that around 35 million U.S. adults use cigarettes, about 12 percent of high school seniors use vaping products on 20 or more of the previous 30 days, and over a quarter did so within the past 30 days—an increase  from 11 percent in 2017. Around 2,000 Americans under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette every day, and over 16 million Americans have smoking-related diseases, including diabetes.1 Diabetes appears at much higher rates in individuals who use tobacco products than in those who don’t. The CDC says that tobacco products elevate the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes by 30-40 percent, and that use of tobacco products makes managing the condition much more difficult while also increasing the chances of complications, including limb damage, heart disease, and impaired blood flow.2 

Yet it’s not clear to scientists exactly why individuals who use tobacco products face much higher risks of type 2 diabetes (T2DM), especially when we normally think of weight gain as the cause of the majority of T2DM cases. A recent NIDA-funded study investigated whether certain regions of the brain might play a role in this T2DM risk. It tested the theory that nicotine control causes tobacco addiction through effects on the brain, which may then influence functions of the pancreas, blood sugar, insulin, and diabetes at the same time. 

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