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Tobacco addiction symptoms and how to treat it

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Tobacco addiction symptoms

Tobacco addiction is the compulsive seeking and use of tobacco products despite adverse health consequences. Nicotine is the main addictive substance in several forms of tobacco. Recognizing the signs that are indicative of the condition is crucial in getting prompt treatment. 

The symptoms of tobacco addiction include being unable to quit smoking, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, continuing to smoke despite health issues, and discontinuing social activities in favor of smoking. 

Nicotine addiction can be very hard to manage, especially without professional help. The most commonly used treatments for tobacco addiction are medications and counseling. Both treatment modalities have been proven to be effective, especially when used in combination. 

1. You are unable to quit smoking. 

Being unable to quit smoking means that an individual faces significant challenges or struggles in their efforts to stop smoking tobacco or quit the habit of smoking. It often signifies an addiction to nicotine, the highly addictive substance found in tobacco products.

If you are a smoker, you may already be aware of the bad effects of tobacco on your health. You might even know people who have died from the complications of smoking. But despite all that, you cannot stop smoking. 

This is because nicotine is believed to be as addictive as cocaine, and it gets to your brain only within a few seconds, according to the fourth chapter of the book, “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General” by Centers and Prevention and United States Department of Health and Human Services published in 2012. 

When attempting to cut back on smoking, the brain has to adjust to the absence of nicotine, making it harder for many smokers to completely quit.

2. You experience withdrawal symptoms. 

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms refers to a situation where physical and psychological effects occur when an individual abruptly reduces or stops using a substance to which they have become dependent, typically due to prolonged use. 

If you have withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, you are dealing with tobacco addiction. When you are going through nicotine withdrawal, your body is trying to adapt to the lack of tobacco and other chemicals in cigarettes. 

Tobacco addiction withdrawal symptoms may manifest in physical and psychological ways and may include irritability, nicotine cravings, trouble concentrating, increased appetite, diarrhea, and depression.

3. Despite health issues, you continue to smoke. 

Continuing to smoke despite health issues means that someone persists in smoking tobacco or using tobacco products even when they are well aware of the adverse health consequences and are experiencing negative health effects as a direct result of their smoking habit. 

The health consequences of tobacco are not limited to one’s heart and lungs. Because nicotine rapidly spreads throughout the body, it can also damage other areas of the body, including one’s skin, mouth, hands, feet, bones, and even reproductive system. 

In fact, according to a study by Li et al., published in the 2019 issue of Tobacco Prevention & Cessation, tobacco use hurts nearly every organ of the human body and causes a variety of ailments, including cardiovascular disease, lung disease, cancers, some mental health concerns, and other health issues.

However, some people still find it hard to quit smoking even with the knowledge of health problems. This is because over time, afflicted people do not only become physically dependent on the substance but psychologically dependent as well.

4. You discontinue social activities.

Discontinuing social activities refers to a scenario in which a person purposefully ceases or minimizes their involvement in different social activities, hobbies, or interactions with friends and family.

Someone who struggles with tobacco addiction may avoid social gatherings or events where smoking is prohibited. They may also avoid seeing family members or friends during activities where they know they cannot freely smoke. Tobacco addicts are likely to spend more time at home than usual in order to fuel their addiction.

factors that increase developing a tobacco addiction

What are the factors that may increase your chances of developing a tobacco addiction?

Factors that may increase one’s chances of developing a tobacco addiction pertain to a set of variables and conditions that can raise an individual’s vulnerability to becoming addicted to tobacco or nicotine-containing products.  The factors that may increase a person’s chances of developing a tobacco addiction are listed below. 

  • Age: People who started smoking at a young age are very likely to become heavy smokers as adults. Young people who smoke are also at an increased risk of developing nicotine dependence later in life, according to a 2004 paper by Storr et al., published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.  
  • Genetics: An article titled, “The genetics of tobacco use: methods, findings and policy implications” written by Hall et al., for the journal Tobacco Control states that family studies have reported high rates of tobacco addiction in blood relatives of people who smoke tobacco. People who have a high-risk genetic profile have an increased likelihood of heavy smoking and tobacco dependence. 
  • Psychiatric disorders: Tobacco addiction is often comorbid with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a 2015 study on nicotine addiction and psychiatric disorders published in the International Review of Neurobiology, the high prevalence of smoking among people with mental illnesses may be explained by attempts to self-medicate with nicotine, which can momentarily lessen symptoms like stress, difficulty concentrating, and low moods. 
  • Other substance use disorders: A 2006 paper by Mark G. Myers and John F. Kelly published in Alcohol Research & Health states that individuals who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs have an increased risk of being smokers. Furthermore, patients who are in treatment for substance dependence also have high rates of smoking, according to a study by Campbell et al., published in the November 2016 issue of The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
  • Parental smoking:  Results of a 2014 study on parental smoking exposure and adolescent smoking trajectories published in Pediatrics found that adolescents who have parents who are addicted to nicotine are more likely to engage in heavier smoking habits, and the risk grows over time.
impacts of tobacco addiction on health

What are the common complications and impacts of tobacco addiction on your health?

The complications and impacts of tobacco addiction on one’s health describe the adverse physical, psychological, and social consequences that individuals experience as a result of their addiction to tobacco products, particularly those containing nicotine.  The most common complications of tobacco addiction on one’s health are listed below.

  • Lung cancer: Cigarette smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. Approximately 90% of lung cancer deaths result from smoking, according to an article on the health effects of smoking from the American Lung Association. The use of other tobacco products such as pipes or cigars also increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer. 
  • Other lung diseases: Smoking also causes several lung diseases, such as emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 
  • Other types of cancer: Tobacco use causes at least 15 different types of cancer, including cancer of the larynx, esophagus, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon and rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia, according to an article titled, “How does smoking cause cancer?” from Cancer Research UK
  • Heart disease: Smoking is one of the primary factors for heart disease. It can contribute to the formation of plaque inside the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart and increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and potential heart attack. 
  • Increased risk of gum disease and tooth loss: Nicotine can negatively affect oral health by causing gum disease, which can worsen because tobacco weakens the body’s immune system, making it harder to treat gum infection. This can ultimately result in tooth loss due to severe periodontitis. 
  • Diabetes: Smoking is one lifestyle choice that serves as a major risk for type 2 diabetes along with its complications. Nicotine changes cells so they do not respond correctly to insulin, causing blood sugar levels to go up. 
  • High red blood cell count: Lung diseases such as emphysema and COPD, which result from smoking, can both cause elevated red blood cells. A high RBC count may mean one has erythrocytosis, which causes the blood to be thicker than normal and increases the risk for blood clots. 
  • Visually impairing eye diseases: Smoking can result in two serious eye diseases that can cause vision loss or blindness: cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), according to a study by Kennedy et al., published in the May 2011 issue of Optometry. The harmful toxins of tobacco can pass from the lung into the bloodstream and can spread throughout the body, including the eyes. 
  • Reproductive health problems: Tobacco use can have adverse effects on fertility. Male and female smokers are about twice as likely to have fertility problems than non-smokers, according to a 2020 article titled, “8 Dangers of Smoking While Pregnant” published in Healthline
  • Lowered immune system function: A 2016 study by Qiu et al., published in Oncotarget states that many of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes can interfere with the immune system and impair the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. This could increase a person’s risk for pneumonia, influenza, and other severe and long-lasting illnesses.
tobacco addiction treatment

What are the treatments that your doctor may recommend if you are diagnosed with tobacco addiction?

Treatments for tobacco addiction that a doctor may recommend include a variety of therapy techniques and interventions that healthcare experts may propose to persons who have been diagnosed with an addiction to tobacco or nicotine-containing products. Treatments that a doctor may recommend for someone diagnosed with tobacco addiction are listed below.

1. Medications

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) provides nicotine in the form of patches, gums, inhalers, lozenges, or nasal sprays, minus the other harmful chemicals in tobacco. NRT helps decrease nicotine cravings and some physical withdrawal symptoms. Antidepressants may also be prescribed for those who have an addiction to smoking. These medications may relieve depressive symptoms that could result from nicotine withdrawal, according to a 2014 study on antidepressants for smoking cessation published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic  Reviews.  

2. Counseling

Medications deal with the physical dependence, but not the psychological aspects of quitting. Giving up smoking for good and overcoming tobacco addiction requires the help of counseling so that afflicted people develop necessary coping skills to better manage cravings and stress that could result in relapse. 

3. Methods to avoid

Although they have been promoted as a quit smoking aid, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as smoking cessation tools. A 2017 study by Caraballo et al., from the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that e-cigarette users whose goal is to kick the nicotine habit ended up using both traditional and e-cigarettes instead of quitting. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a safe tobacco product. All forms of tobacco contain nicotine, and usage can lead to addiction and resulting complications. Other tobacco options that are equally harmful and addictive include smokeless tobacco, cigars, pipes, kreteks, bidis, and hookahs (waterpipes). 

Which tobacco addiction treatment is the most effective?

The most effective treatment options for tobacco addiction are medications and counseling, or a combination of both. In fact, a review on pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation in adults written by Nancy A. Rigotti for UpToDate states that when behavioral therapy and medicine are used together, smoking cessation rates are higher than when they are used separately. 

While medications aid in easing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, behavioral treatments aid in identifying triggers, modifying routines, and learning relapse-prevention skills, so people can avoid smoking when confronted with triggers and stressful life events.