Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that is naturally found in several types of plants, including the tobacco plant. It is also produced synthetically. Nicotine is found in tobacco products such as cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and pipe tobacco, and according to the American Heart Association, it as addictive as heroin.
Other forms of nicotine products include:
Nicotine acts as both a sedative and a stimulant, producing temporarily pleasant physical and mood-altering effects in the brain. Nicotine increases heart rate and alertness, produces euphoria, and makes users feel more relaxed. These effects can make the user want to continue using tobacco products but continued use can lead to addiction over time.
Nicotine products are very common in the United States and can be found in many convenience stores, grocery stores, and other retail locations around the country.
- Hubble-Bubble (hookah)
No amount of nicotine use is safe or healthy. Regular use of tobacco products can result in addiction over time and a person who uses these products regularly will begin to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing all use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15.1 percent of adults smoked cigarettes in 2015, which is down from 20.9 percent in 2005. Although the overall percentage of adult Americans who smoke has decreased, cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. It accounts for more than 480,000 deaths each year and more than 41,000 of those deaths are caused by secondhand smoke.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 known cancer-causing chemicals and other tobacco products also contain harmful chemicals that severely damage the human body and its ability to function properly. Smokeless tobacco products are also associated with many health problems.
Immediate short-term effects of nicotine use include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased alertness
- Feelings of relaxation
- Ear infections
- Persistent cough
- Bad breath
Long-term effects of nicotine use include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Heart attack
- Macular degeneration
- Gum disease
- Weakened sense of taste and smell
- Premature aging and wrinkles
Abusing tobacco products may also make it more difficult for a woman to become pregnant and can increase the risk for miscarriage, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), stillbirth, early delivery, and other pregnancy complications.
Additionally, secondhand smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals that can damage the health of other individuals who are in the presence of another person while they are smoking. Most secondhand smoking occurs in the workplace or at home and can result in seriously damaging health effects such as ear infections, asthma attacks, respiratory infections, heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Nicotine addiction can be easily spotted with recognizable signs and symptoms, but who is at risk for developing nicotine addiction in the first place?
There are several risk factors that may influence the likelihood that an individual may develop a nicotine addiction. Although someone without any of these risk factors could also become addicted to nicotine, those who identify with one or more of the following factors have a higher risk of being affected.
- Mental illness – People who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, or schizophrenia are more likely to be smokers than those who do not.
- Poverty – According to the CDC, more current cigarette smokers live below the poverty level than non-smokers. About 26.1 percent of people living in poverty smoke while only 13.9 percent of those living at or above the poverty level smoke.
- Home and social environments – Individuals who grew up with parents, close family members, or friends who smoked cigarettes are more likely to smoke themselves.
- Genetics – According to the Mayo Clinic, receptors on the brain’s nerve cells may respond differently to high doses of nicotine based on certain genetic factors.
- Use of other substances – People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs are more likely to be smokers as well.
If a person is addicted to nicotine, he or she may exhibit some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
- Being unable to quit, even after several unsuccessful attempts.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the smoking, chewing, or snorting of tobacco is stopped.
- Continuing to smoke or use other tobacco products regardless of ongoing health problems caused by the tobacco.
- Giving up social or recreational activities in order to smoke or use other tobacco products.
- Needing larger quantities of the tobacco product to achieve the same effect.
Although some people are able to successfully quit all use of tobacco products on their own, most people will need more support. If you or a loved one is addicted to nicotine, you will most likely need the help of a counselor to overcome the physical and behavioral aspects of nicotine addiction.
If an individual is addicted to nicotine, the first step in overcoming the addiction is the cessation of all tobacco products and withdrawal. This process breaks a person’s physical dependence on the addictive substance.
The severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms will vary based on the level of the person’s addiction, but they may include:
- Tobacco cravings
- Increased appetite/weight gain
- Intestinal cramping
- Difficulty concentrating
Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline
30 minutes to 4 hours after the last dose: Early symptoms of nicotine withdrawal typically include cravings for tobacco which may begin as early as 30 minutes after the last dose.
10 hours after the last dose: Restlessness and insomnia are common during this time.
1-3 days after the last dose: Symptoms usually peak around this time and individuals may experience anxiety, irritability, and headaches.
5-7 days after the last dose: Most withdrawal symptoms should have subsided by this point.
Although some individuals may be able to stop using tobacco products on their own, the majority of nicotine-addicted people need assistance to quit.
Nicotine Replacement Treatments
Nicotine replacement treatments such as nicotine gum, patches, nasal sprays, and inhalers can be extremely beneficial for those who are recovering from nicotine addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Although these products deliver a small amount of nicotine into the user’s system, they help reduce cravings, control usage, and can be used to wean a person off of the drug. When used in conjunction with behavioral treatments, the results can be even more effective and long-lasting.
Behavioral therapy and intervention, such as those offered at a long-term drug and alcohol rehab program, can also help individuals successfully overcome their addiction to nicotine. This type of treatment is designed to help clients identify high-risk situations, find more productive ways to cope with anxiety, stress, depression, and other negative emotions, and develop a social support network with others in recovery.
Some medications such as Zyban and Chantix have been approved by the FDA for use in smoking cessation. Zyban is an antidepressant and Chantix is a medication that blocks the effects of nicotine in the brain and eases withdrawal symptoms so users can more easily quit smoking and maintain their abstinence on a long-term basis.
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