What is Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine is an addictive drug and a natural ingredient found in the tobacco plant. It is a colorless, toxic alkaloid containing powerful chemicals such as carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen. Many products including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco as well as nicotine replacement products use nicotine. This substance causes changes in the brain which induce a euphoric state of mind for the smoker.
When a person smokes and inhales the nicotine, a chemical called dopamine in the brain is released, producing feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. These good feelings cause the smoker to want to use it more and more. However, when nicotine is absent and the smoker has not had a regular nicotine fix, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms are experienced.
The dependence on nicotine is based on psychological and physical factors. For instance, the smoker develops certain typical behaviors associated with smoking. Usually, a cigarette is smoked after eating, while drinking a cup of coffee or alcohol, in stressful situations or when another smoker is smoking. Acting as a stimulant, nicotine’s addictive properties definitely affect mood and performance. Nicotine has been said to be even more addictive than alcohol, heroin and cocaine, and it can take as few as four cigarettes to develop a lifelong addiction.
Symptoms of Nicotine Addiction
Symptoms of nicotine addiction include:
- Smoking increasingly more than usual
- Urgent need to smoke despite efforts to decrease intake
- Tolerance to nicotine decreases, thus causing the smoker to increase nicotine intake to derive the same effect
- Withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit
- Personal and professional life is affected due to extensive time spent smoking, e.g. your partner may be tired of you always going outside for a cigarette or you get into trouble at work because you always out of the office on a ‘smoke break’
- Excessive amount of time spent on the obsession with the acquisition, purchase and use of cigarettes and tobacco
- Continuing to smoke even when you have been diagnosed with a medical condition that makes smoking even more dangerous, such as a heart attack or a stroke
Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
Diagnosing Nicotine Addiction
Nicotine addiction is diagnosed based on the observance of certain set behavior patterns displayed by the smoker. An individual is addicted to nicotine if he or she:
- Regularly smokes more than five cigarettes per day
- Smokes immediately after first waking up in the morning
- Resists any form of smoking cessation
Effects of Nicotine on the Body
There are harmful and negative effects of nicotine on the body which result in serious health problems and medical conditions such as:
- Lung cancer
- Other cancers, including cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, lung, kidney, bladder, pancreas and uterine cervix
- Cardiovascular disease including an increased risk of strokes
- Organ damage for example to the bladder and kidneys
- High blood pressure
- Acute respiratory illnesses
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Immediate effects on the body that are also dangerous include:
What Causes Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine is the substance in tobacco that keeps the smoker addicted. When the smoker inhales the nicotine, it causes the smoker "to feel good" by increasing the release of the brain chemical called dopamine. When the nicotine releases dopamine into your brain, you become calm and relaxed and so you continue to remain dependent.
Help for Nicotine Addiction
There are numerous methods and treatments that you can use if you want to quit smoking. Because nicotine addiction is very difficult to beat, most people need some sort of assistance in quitting. If you feel that you do not have enough willpower and determination to quit cold turkey, conventional or alternative treatment approaches may be able to help you become smoke-free.
These treatment approaches include:
- Over-the-counter medication such as nicotine replacement therapy or NRT (patches, gum or inhalers that have nicotine in them) helps you to deal with withdrawal cravings
- Prescription medications such as antidepressants
- Counseling, support groups and smoking cessation programs
It is important to remember that for any of these treatments to be successful, they have to be part of a broader ‘stop smoking treatment plan’. Research the various treatment options thoroughly so that you can make an informed choice and be aware of the risks involved. Determination and inner strength as well as support and encouragement from loved ones will also help you on your way to giving up nicotine for good.
Due to the unpleasantness of the withdrawal symptoms, many people who try to quit smoking end up replacing the cigarettes with some other type of addiction. This may be an addiction to prescription medication, such as sleeping tablets or tranquilizers, or an addiction to food. While you will definitely experience the health benefits of giving up nicotine, no one wants to replace one addiction with another!
A healthy diet, adequate exercise as well as natural and holistic treatments such as acupuncture, massage and herbal and homeopathic remedies can also help the smoker overcome nicotine addiction. Herbal and homeopathic treatments are a safe and effective means to reduce nicotine cravings (without giving you more nicotine) and will also help to prevent weight gain and alleviate anxiety and irritability.
There are a number of ingredients such as Avena sativa, Garcinia cambogia and Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) which will help to address the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Remember to consult a homeopath, herbalist or naturopath about a treatment program that best suits your needs.
More Information on Nicotine Addiction
Once you have decided to quit and smoked your last cigarette, you will begin to experience physical withdrawal symptoms. Although the intensity may differ from person to person, the*physical withdrawal symptoms are usually the hardest* and most difficult part of quitting for the smoker.
It may help to know that physical withdrawal symptoms and effects will last anywhere from about 72 hours to several weeks. Knowing that the first few days are the worst and that there IS an end to the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can help you to tolerate them better.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms and How to Manage Them
- Anxiety – exercise regularly and practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. Natural remedies can be very helpful with anxiety and restlessness.
- Coughing – drink water or relieve the irritation and dryness with cough drops. Chewing gum will also help to keep your mouth moist.
- Craving for a cigarette – find a distraction or wait out the craving (usually lasts five minutes). A change of activity is one of the best things you can do. Go for a short walk, jump on your exercise bicycle, phone a friend, turn on the TV or put on some music to sing to.
- Sleepiness and lethargy – limit caffeine intake and other stimulants and practice relaxation techniques. Use natural remedies to help with insomnia.
- Feeling agitated and irritable – take a walk, try a massage or listen to relaxing music.
Coping with Nicotine Addiction
Quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things to do, and often your attempts may fall by the wayside. The fact that you are eager to stop even though you may falter means that you are half way there. Here are some useful tips to make your quest more successful:
- Join a gym and start exercising at least three times a week
- Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day and avoid sugary foods
- Drink lots of water to flush out toxins and help with the nicotine cravings
- Spend more time with non-smokers and you will find yourself not wanting to smoke quite as much
- Involve yourself in other activities such as painting, scrap booking, playing golf, building puzzles, swimming, or writing poetry
- If you’re feeling hungry, have a healthy snack (carrot sticks or rice cakes) instead of reaching for a cigarette
- During stressful situations when you really need to blow off steam, squeeze a stress ball, have a work-out at the gym, go running, listen to loud music or phone a friend who can offer support
- Try positive self-talk and affirmations such "I can do this" or "I want to be"
- Say no when offered a cigarette, and the more often that you refuse, the more you will be testing your willpower and the easier it will become
- Practice deep breathing and visualization techniques for inner strength and to keep you calm