Nicotine is the primary addictive component of tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most popular method of obtaining nicotine, though chewing smokeless tobacco, smoking pipes and smoking cigars also deliver nicotine to the body. Cigarette smoke, however, offers the strongest and quickest effects.
What is Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine gives an almost immediate kick to the adrenal glands, discharging epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. This rush of adrenaline is stimulating to the system and causes increased respiration, blood pressure and heart rate. This adrenaline rush is highly addictive.
The Biology of Nicotine Addiction
Nicotine is an extremely addictive drug. Nicotine use activates “reward” pathways in the brain that regulate pleasurable feelings. Use also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the brain chemical responsible for managing the desire to use drugs. Long-term tobacco use leads to brain changes that result in nicotine addiction.
A number of health risks are associated with prolonged nicotine use. Smoking causes various cancers, the most common being lung cancer. It can also lead to chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Asthma is exacerbated by cigarette smoke, and the risk of heart disease, stroke and aneurysm are significantly increased in smokers. Secondhand smoke is also a health danger.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2009), an estimated 440,000 Americans die each year due to cigarette smoking.
Nicotine Addiction Risk Factors
Cigarette smoking has decreased in recent years in the United States, as awareness of the health hazards of nicotine has spread. Nicotine use is more prevalent in certain groups, however, such as blue-collar workers, African Americans, and those in low-income brackets and with little education.
Nicotine addiction has high co-morbidity with some psychological conditions. Those who suffer from psychiatric disorders, as well as people with addictions to alcohol or other substances, are more likely to smoke than their healthy counterparts.
Nicotine Addiction Warning Signs
Symptoms associated with nicotine addiction include:
- Continuing to use nicotine despite known health risks
- Extensive time spent using or buying tobacco products
- Increased smoking
- Persistent desire for nicotine, despite attempts to quit
- Postponing necessary or enjoyable activities in order to smoke
- Tolerance development
- Withdrawal symptoms when not smoking.
Nicotine Addiction Treatments
Effective treatments for nicotine addiction do exist, and quitting nicotine use has immediate health benefits. According to the National Institutes of Health (2009), within 24 hours of quitting nicotine:
- Blood oxygen levels increase
- Blood pressure and pulse rate slow to normal levels
- Circulation and body temperature improve and stabilize
- Risk of heart attack decreases.
Nicotine replacement therapies, including nicotine gum and patches, are some of the most common means of smoking cessation. They are used along with behavioral support to ease physical withdrawal symptoms. These products contain less nicotine than cigarettes and provide some of the pleasure associated with tobacco products.
Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
- Decreased heart rate
- Difficulty concentrating
- Weight gain.