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Tobacco addiction symptoms and how to treat it

Reading time: 5 mins

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 the need for greater amounts of tobacco to feel good or normal, multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking, powerful urges to smoke, avoidance of activities or events where smoking is prohibited, and persistent tobacco use despite health problems. 

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.

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. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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. 


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

A complex interplay of multiple factors can cause the disorder. The factors that 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.
  • Genetics: 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). Attempts to self-medicate with nicotine may explain the high rates of smoking in individuals with mental illnesses, because nicotine may temporarily reduce the symptoms of these illnesses, such as stress, poor concentration, and low mood.
  • Other substance use disorders: Evidence exists that all types of substance use disorder are associated with tobacco addiction. Individuals who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs have an increased risk of being smokers. Patients who are in treatment for substance dependence also have high rates of smoking.
  • Parental smoking: Adolescents with tobacco-dependent parents are at an increased risk of developing intense smoking patterns, and this risk increases with longer exposure to parental nicotine dependence. 

Unfolded cigarette

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

Tobacco can have a wide array of adverse effects on the body. 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. 80% to 90% of lung cancer deaths result from smoking, and 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.
  • 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). 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.
  • Lowered immune system function: 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. 


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

Certain treatment modalities have been proven to be effective against the condition. Some treatments recommended by doctors for individuals battling 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. Evidence also exists that NRT products can double one’s chances of quitting smoking. 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.

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 the 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. Evidence also exists 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, there is evidence that a combination of behavioral therapy and medication produces higher smoking quit rates than either treatment approach alone. 

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