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Article Summary

A Guide To Tobacco And Nicotine Addiction

Tobacco and nicotine are among the most widely abused of drugs in the world. They are so addictive the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has estimated that they cause over 6 million deaths a year.

The main chemical in tobacco is nicotine. Due to this addictive chemical, using tobacco causes an adrenaline rush after nicotine is inhaled as cigarette smoke or absorbed into the blood stream. The chemical also trigger a surge in dopamine, the brain's happy chemical.

This happy chemical stimulates the center of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. Like other drugs, consistent and long term tobacco use eventually causes psychological and physical addiction. This happens with other forms of tobacco abuse - including smoking it as well as taking such smokeless varieties as chewing tobacco and snuff.

Due to its addictive quality, over the last few years, many countries have changed their legislation to ban smoking tobacco and taking nicotine in public places such as bars, pubs, restaurants, and public transportation.

Read on to learn more about tobacco and nicotine, their uses, effects, side effects, addictive qualities, withdrawal symptoms, dangers, and more:

Understanding Tobacco And Nicotine

The plant tobacco is primarily grown for its leaves. These leaves are then dried, fermented and packaged into a variety of products. They contain nicotine, the active ingredient that leads to addiction. It is because of this chemical that most users find it so difficult to quit.

However, tobacco also contains other potentially harmful chemicals - some of which are created when it is burned. As such, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recently has announced that national regulations now extend to all nicotine and tobacco products, including:

  • E-cigs (e-cigarettes)
  • E-cig liquid solutions
  • Cigars
  • Hookah tobacco
  • Pipe tobacco

This FDA ruling also restricted the sale of all of these products to minors.

Tobacco And Nicotine Uses

People sniff, chew, and smoke tobacco. Smoked products include kreteks, bidis, cigars, and cigarettes. However, some will also smoke the loose leaves in a hookah (water pipe) or pipe. Chewed products include snus, dip, snuff, and chewing tobacco while some sniff snuff.

Most users take tobacco and nicotine for the pleasant effects they generate. The nicotine in any of the above product is readily absorbed into the blood. Upon entry, this chemical stimulates the adrenal glands, leading to the release of the hormone epinephrine (or adrenaline). This hormone, on the other hand, increases heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure while also stimulating the CNS (central nervous system).

Similar to other drugs like heroin and cocaine, the nicotine in tobacco will also increase the levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger that affects those parts of the brain responsible for controlling feelings of pleasure and reward.

Recent studies have also suggested that the other chemicals created in tobacco smoke - including acetaldehyde - might also enhance the effects nicotine use has on the brain.

That said, several behaviors, cues, and situations are now increasingly linked to the urge to smoke tobacco:

  • After eating, when most tobacco uses feel a strong desire to take the drug
  • Certain points during the day, such as during work breaks, after routine tasks, and with breakfast (or the first cup of tea or coffee in the morning)
  • During moments of stress and excitement as well as in emotional situations
  • Some places, including pubs, bars, and toilets, as well as car parks
  • When they smell tobacco
  • While drinking alcohol, with many users associating this combination with heightened pleasure
  • While driving
  • While meeting other smokers
  • While taking or making calls

Tobacco And Nicotine Effects

Tobacco and nicotine use may have different effects. These include:

  • A decrease in appetite
  • Alertness
  • Diarrhea
  • Faster heart rate
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Improved memory
  • Increased intestinal activity
  • Increased phlegm and saliva
  • Mood boost
  • Nausea
  • Relieving minor depression
  • Sense of happiness and wellbeing
  • Sweating

Although both tobacco and nicotine are addictive, most of the adverse health effects of using them arise from other chemicals. These severe effects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Cataracts
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Heart attack
  • Higher risk of heart disease
  • Leukemia
  • Lung cancer
  • Other cancers
  • Pneumonia
  • Stroke

Tobacco And Nicotine Addictive Qualities

Both tobacco and nicotine are addictive. This is why first time users eventually continue taking these drugs even when they notice the negative effects it brings, or after learning how dangerous such use may be.

Addiction is typically characterized by compulsive drug abuse and seeking, even when negative health consequences are apparent. In many cases, smokers (in particular) identify such use as detrimental and harmful but never seem able to quit.

Tobacco and nicotine work by producing a variety of effects on the brain. In particular, they activate the brain's reward pathways, thereby making the user feel pleasurable. Nicotine use directly stimulates the release of dopamine, and the brain comes to associate tobacco with pleasure. Eventually, continued exposure to the drugs results in addiction.

The drug's pharmacokinetic properties may also enhance the potential for abuse and addiction. Smoking cigarettes, for instance, leads to a fast distribution of the chemical nicotine into the brain. The levels of the drug peak within 10 seconds of taking a puff (inhalation).

However, the pleasurable effects dissipate just as quickly (as do the associated feeling of reward). This causes smokers to continue dosing to maintain these pleasurable effects.

After some weeks of regular use, your body becomes tolerant to the drug and you will need to take more tobacco to achieve the desired pleasurable effects. At this point, you may use more and become psychologically and physically dependent on the drug. This eventually leads to addiction.

While addicted, you may keep using tobacco to get nicotine and achieve the heightened pleasure and energy the drug causes. Once you get to this stage, quitting may prove difficult, and you may suffer a slew of severe withdrawal symptoms.

Tobacco And Nicotine Overdose

As a poisonous chemical, nicotine may cause overdose. This will happen when you use too much tobacco and experience a toxic reaction resulting in harmful and serious symptoms, or even death.

Nicotine poisoning typically occurs when young children chew on nicotine patches or gum used by regular smokers, or when they ingest e-cig liquid. The common symptoms of such poisoning may include:

  • Decreased or increased heart
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

If you are concerned that someone (either a child or an adult) is undergoing tobacco and nicotine overdose, you should seek emergency medical attention. This is because overdose may prove fatal or lead to death.

Tobacco And Nicotine Withdrawal

Like heroin, cocaine, or alcohol, tobacco and nicotine are quite addictive. Therefore, when you cut back or your use or you stop smoking, you may experience withdrawal. Some of these withdrawal symptoms may include but are not limited to:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficits
  • Boredom
  • Chest tightness
  • Cognitive deficit
  • Constipation
  • Cough
  • Cravings for the nicotine sources
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of frustration
  • Gas
  • Headaches
  • Hunger
  • Impatience
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Nasal drip
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Slower heart rate
  • Sore throat
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight gain

These symptoms may become apparent a couple of hours after you stop using tobacco and your body starts missing the nicotine component, and you might go back to using the drug.

The withdrawal symptoms are also highly likely to peak after a few days of cessation but will subside after a couple of weeks. However, some people continue suffering these symptoms for several months.

Tobacco And Nicotine Dangers

Pregnant women who use tobacco and nicotine (or smoke cigarettes) run a heightened risk of premature infants, infants with abnormally low birth weight, still births and miscarriage. The exposed children may also suffer behavioral and learning problems in the future.

On the other hand, if you sit or stand close to smokers, you will be exposed to the second hand smoke. This exposure may lead to heart disease and lung cancer. It can also cause severe health problems, including bronchitis, pneumonia, reduced lung function, phlegm, and coughing.

When children are exposed to such smoke, they run the risk of developing sudden infant death syndrome (which leads to death), lung infections, severe asthma, and ear infections.

Without treatment, addiction to tobacco and nicotine may also have fatal consequences. It can, for instance, cause the following:

  • Asthma
  • Buerger's disease (or thromboangiitis obliterans)
  • Cancers of the mouth, throat, and lungs
  • Cardiovascular problems, including stroke, peripheral vascular disease, angina, and heart attack
  • Chronic lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • COPD (or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Heart disease
  • Infertility
  • Insulin resistance
  • Male impotence
  • Premature death
  • Respiratory infections, including bronchitis, colds, flu, and pneumonia
  • Skin ages faster
  • Stroke
  • Stroke
  • Sudden cardiac death

Any of the above conditions might prove to be fatal. The only solution to reducing the risk of sudden or slow death from these diseases is to quit tobacco and nicotine use and abuse. Even once you are diagnosed with any of these diseases, quitting may improve the treatment efforts.

Signs And Symptoms Of Tobacco And Nicotine Abuse

Unlike other substance addictions, chronic tobacco and nicotine use is difficult to hide. This is because the drug is easy to obtain, legal, and can be consumed even in public and in private.

Some of the symptoms of tobacco and nicotine use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction may include:

  • Continued use despite the adverse health consequences of such use
  • Drug-reinforced behavior
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Giving up activities and events where tobacco use and smoking are not permitted
  • Highly compulsive or controlled use
  • Inability to stop using tobacco
  • Mandatory tobacco use after meals or after a given period of time (after meetings, movies, flights, and the like)
  • Needing the drug to feel normal
  • Physical dependence
  • Pleasant euphoric effects
  • Psychoactive effects
  • Recurrent drug cravings
  • Relapse following quitting or abstinence
  • Smelling of tobacco or nicotine
  • Stereotypic patterns of drug use
  • Tolerance
  • Using nicotine and tobacco during times of distress

Treatment For Tobacco And Nicotine Addiction

With property treatment, tobacco and nicotine addiction can be easily managed. This type of addiction is similar to other substance addictions in the sense that it will never be cured once. As such, you need to continue dealing with it over the course of your entire life.

In particular, tobacco and nicotine users suffer high relapse rates. As such, the best option is to go for long term treatment or opt for a change in approach if only to prevent a relapse.

For instance, altering your lifestyle habits - such as avoiding other tobacco users or implementing positive and reinforcing behaviors and habits (including exercise and walking) when you feel a craving may help to improve your chances of recovery.

Although it is difficult to beat tobacco and nicotine addiction, it can and has been done. Further, there are many resources available that you can use to quit. For instance, you can turn to co-workers, friends, and family members for support.

For success, however, you must want to quit. If you tried in the past but were unsuccessful, don't use these attempts as your reference points of failure. Instead, view them as learning experiences and use them positively.

The best chance for success may lie in enrolling into a tobacco cessation program. Most of these programs are offered at national organizations, work sites, community centers, health departments, and hospitals.

Alternatively, you could opt for nicotine replacement therapy. This involves using products with lower doses of the drug, but without the toxins found in tobacco cigarettes and smoke. The replacement usually comes in the form of gum, inhalers, throat lozenges, nasal sprays, skin patches, and the like. The advantage is that you do not need a prescription to buy these replacements.

However, your doctor or primary healthcare provider may also prescribe medications to help you kick the habit and prevent a relapse. Both medications and behavioral treatments might prove effective at empowering you to keep away from tobacco and nicotine although a combination of both may prove to be more effective.

You can also get in touch through the 1-800-QUIT-NOW number, a national toll-free quit line that the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) established to help you. This quit line serves as the best access point for those who seek information and assistant in quitting tobacco and nicotine use.

After you quit, you may experience the following benefits:

  • Improved lung function
  • Improvements in circulation
  • Normalized carbon monoxide levels in the blood
  • Reduction of heart attack risks by 50%
  • Reduction of the risk of experiencing a stroke
  • Slower heart rate

To enjoy these benefits of quitting, seek treatment for tobacco and nicotine use as soon as possible. The earlier you start on the process, the easier it will get down the line and you will soon be free of these harmful chemicals and drugs.

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