Nicotine is the addictive ingredient found in cigarettes, cigars, pipes and other tobacco products. It can be smoked, chewed or sniffed. Other names for cigarettes include cigs, butts or smokes, while smokeless tobacco is often referred to as chew, dip or snuff.
When a smoker inhales tobacco, nicotine and more than 4,000 other chemicals are absorbed through the lungs and into the blood. These include various poisons and toxins such as carbon monoxide and tar, which have been known to cause cancer, heart problems and other diseases.
In just eight seconds, nicotine reaches the brain and binds to acetylcholine receptors as well as cholinergic receptors, producing the following effects:
- Increased blood pressure, heart rate and breathing
- Pleasurable feelings (produced by excess release of dopamine)
These effects wear off quickly and the user begins craving the next nicotine high.
Effects of Smoking
Smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products containing nicotine is detrimental to your health. Nicotine abuse damages every organ in the body and accounts for roughly one-third of all cancer deaths. Heavy smokers put themselves at four times the risk of death as non-smokers. The effects of nicotine include:
- Lung cancer
- Cancers of the stomach, kidney, mouth, bladder, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, cervix and ureter
- Reduced sense of taste and smell
- Discolored teeth
- Premature aging
- Reduced stamina
- Increased risk of stroke and heart attack
These effects can also impact people who breathe secondhand smoke (the fumes exhaled by the smoker or trailing off a lit cigarette). These individuals are 25-30 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 20-30 percent more likely to develop lung cancer. Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous for children who may suffer from sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, respiratory infections and ear problems.
Although smoking cigarettes is not an unusual habit, it is more deadly than all the other types of addictive drugs combined. Nearly half a million Americans die from tobacco use each year, with one in six deaths resulting from use of tobacco.
Nicotine Addiction: Tolerance & Withdrawal
Using tobacco products can lead to nicotine addiction. Tolerance can develop quickly, prompting the user to smoke more cigarettes more often throughout the day.
When trying to quit smoking, users may experience withdrawal symptoms for the first few days or weeks. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms typically include irritability, sleep problems, difficulty paying attention and increased appetite.
These withdrawal symptoms, combined with nicotine cravings that can last six months or longer, are a major reason for high relapse rates among smokers. In addition, the rituals surrounding smoking can reinforce the behavior. For example, finishing a meal, smelling or seeing another person smoking, and using alcohol can trigger nicotine cravings and contribute to relapse.
Treatment for Nicotine Addiction
Nicotine addiction is difficult to overcome. Nearly 35 million people try to quit smoking each year, most of whom relapse. But treatment does work if you keep at it, and your health will start improving the day you stop.
Some of the treatments available to help people quit smoking include:
- Individual therapy
- Education about the disease
- Nicotine replacement medicines (including nicotine patch/gum, inhalers, lozenges and other over-the-counter medications)
- Prescription medication
- Nicotine cessation programs
For most people, a combination of medication and behavioral therapy programs are the easiest way to stop smoking and most effective treatment for nicotine addiction. If you’re addicted to nicotine as well as other drugs, some drug rehabilitation programs can help you address all of these issues at the same time.
If you or someone you know is wrestling with smoking or nicotine addiction, call our free helpline today at 1-877-562-2565.
Information used with permission from CRC Health Group.