In 2019, the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control (CDC) discovered that smokers comprise 34 million people in the country. About 14% of our population. Addiction is most often attributed to drug abuse, but addiction can happen with any substance available. Nicotine dependence is one of the worse addictions, ranking with heroin as one of the hardest to overcome. Surprised? Smoking has been a socially acceptable activity for decades and has only recently seen any opposition. Laws now restrict smoking outside, although some hospitals are now restricting smoking off their property. Most recently, we saw the legal age of consumption changed to 21. Still, cigarettes are readily available and okay to use in many circles of family and friends. To understand nicotine addiction, we must first understand addiction itself.
Mental health officials define addiction as a compulsive behavior to use harmful substances or engage in activities that create some form of harm. Addiction is also known as a brain disease because the brain is altered. For example, whenever we use tobacco products or any harmful substance, our brain is manipulated into releasing dopamine. Dopamine is a part of our brain’s reward system, and the more we use a substance, the more we retrain our brain. At some point, the amount we use is not enough to trigger the dopamine release, and we have to use more. It becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break.
The Intensity of Nicotine Addiction
Tobacco addiction is a fierce one that is the same as drug addiction. Youth and young adults are the most common smokers. Ask the adult smokers around you when they started, and you will find this to be true. Starting at such a young age comes with severe health consequences and harms the developing brain. Some youngsters grow up around secondhand smoke and can cause them to start smoking later on. Nicotine abuse is also common for people coming from a home where alcohol abuse is rampant. Quitting is difficult because of the hold nicotine has on the body and because of the social acceptance. Let’s explore the ingredients of cigarette smoke so that we can understand it a bit more.
What Is In Cigarette Smoke?
Most people think cigarette smoke is tar and nicotine, but really, it’s much more. The effects of nicotine on the body have everything to do with the 30+ chemicals in the smoke. Here is a shortlist of ingredients and how they can affect the body.
- Acetone – a solvent that targets the liver and kidneys. Irritant to throat and eyes.
- Ammonia – a cleaning agent that increases blood pressure
- Cadmium – a known carcinogen that attacks the liver, brain, and kidneys
- Chromium – causes lung cancer
- Formaldehyde – harms the digestive system
- Hydroquinone – harms the central nervous system
- Nickel – a known carcinogen
- Styrene – is often linked to leukemia
- Nicotine – a chemical in tobacco that reaches the brain within 15 seconds. It can cause vomiting and depression of the central nervous system.
Knowing just part of the list of harmful chemicals can help encourage others to quit smoking. However, many smokers may not be encouraged by the information. That is why the next topic of discussion is health concerns related to smoking cigarettes.
Smoking-Related Diseases and Other Health Concerns
As with other drug addictions, there are health risks and diseases that can lead to early death. This is true for tobacco users and non-smokers.
Second-hand smoke can cause problems for non-smokers, such as:
- Lung cancer
- Coronary heart disease
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Respiratory disease
- Slowed lung growth (in children)
It is estimated that 40,000 deaths are caused to adults and 400 in infants each year through tobacco smoke.
Tobacco use will increase these risk factors:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Respiratory infections
- Heart Disease
- Increased risk for tuberculosis
- High blood pressure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cancers of the mouth, throat, and lungs
By quitting tobacco now, a smoker can stop the progression of these diseases and become healthier. Unfortunately, it means that one must go through nicotine withdrawal symptoms. One cannot stop smoking without experiencing them. Let’s look at the withdrawal symptoms so that we can understand what a smoker goes through.
Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Everyone will experience nicotine withdrawal a bit differently. Part of the reason is based on the amount of nicotine in your body. The more nicotine, the harder it will be. On average, you can expect to experience withdrawals from a few days to several weeks.
First, you will notice your appetite increases. Many assume this is because you need to suck on lollipops or chew gum, but it’s more than that. Dopamine is released every time a person smokes cigarettes. Dopamine inhibits hunger, so when you stop triggering the dopamine, you will become hungry. Many will find they gain several pounds in the first two weeks. We encourage people to not stress about the weight; your lungs will be much happier if you quit smoking cigarettes.
Cravings are the next thing you will notice, and they start intense. Rest assured, they ease over time. They can stay with a person for years, though, especially those with mental illness. This is because they use smoking as a coping mechanism for any stress they experience. Many report that years after quitting, they still get cravings whenever they are in a high-stress situation.
Other physical symptoms include:
- persistent cough as the lungs clear out the nicotine and tar
- headaches and dizziness
- feeling tired
Withdrawals go beyond just the physical. There are behavioral, emotional, and mental withdrawals too. Let’s take a look at what that looks like for many who use tobacco regularly.
- depressed mood, from lack of serotonin and dopamine
- mental fog that will go away over time
- irritability and emotional outbursts
When combating an addiction, dealing with all of the above can make cigarette smoking suddenly seem appealing. But, unfortunately, it’s easier to smoke than it is to quit tobacco. Since that is usually the addiction talking, let’s look at another reason it’s hard to quit.
Legal Availability Inhibits Recovery
For those who abuse alcohol and smoke cigarettes, it’s harder to quit because the substances are everywhere. Other drug addicts are encouraged to stop being around people who use drugs. It’s not so easy when legal substances are involved. Visit any grocery store, gas station, or big-box store, and you will find e-cigarettes and any tobacco product you can think of. An e-cigarette is an option where nicotine is provided in liquid form and vaporized for inhalation. Most smokers engage with family and friends who smoke, and may not encourage a healthier lifestyle.
Crushing The Addiction
Being addicted to nicotine does not have to be a life sentence. There are many ways to stop using tobacco and be successful at it. Likewise, there are many options, from quitting cold turkey to using prescriptions and programs to support your journey.
Smoking cessation programs have been around since about 1965. These programs help people follow a plan to combat their physical dependence through different methods. One popular way is to smoke fewer cigarettes over time. This is particularly helpful for long-time smokers that find themselves unsuccessful at their attempts to stop. Others use nicotine replacement therapies to help the dependent get smaller doses of nicotine without the other chemicals in tobacco smoke.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Quitting cold turkey is known as putting the cigarettes down and never smoking another one. Unfortunately, this method is not a successful one unless the person is a relatively new smoker. Nicotine replacement therapy was created to help people be successful at smoking cessation. They are often comprised of five components:
- nicotine patches
- nicotine gum
- nicotine lozenges
- nose spray
While there are five options, these are not always available for everyone. Patches, gum, and lozenges are the most popular because they are successfully used by many to overcome nicotine addiction. This is because withdrawal symptoms are minimized to making quitting feel more achievable. Inhalers and nose sprays are more common for people who are not finding success with the other tools and have a long history of tobacco use.
Take Control Of Your Nicotine Use
People wanting to quit can reach out to our team at Profound Treatment. We can provide medical advice based on an assessment of your addiction. In addition, many people find support groups and mental health therapy to help learn new coping skills and address addictive behaviors at the root cause. Why be dependent on nicotine when you can live the life you want!