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Nicotine Addiction Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

Nicotine addiction is a form of substance use disorder wherein a person keeps using nicotine products regardless of their harmful effect on their health. When they attempt to stop using nicotine products, people experience withdrawal symptoms.

The biggest symptom of nicotine addiction is the excessive use of cigarettes or other products. A person needs more and more just to feel relaxed or to improve mood. 

Various causes can contribute to nicotine addiction including nicotine’s impact on the brain’s reward center. Mental health problems and a person’s environment can also contribute to nicotine addiction.

Although tricky, nicotine addiction is manageable. A combination of medications and counseling can go a long way. Many natural remedies can also help by reducing cravings. A person with nicotine addiction also needs support from friends and family. 

man-smoking-a-cigarette

What is Nicotine addiction?

Nicotine addiction is an addiction to chemical nicotine, found in tobacco. A person with nicotine addiction experiences strong cravings and compulsive need to keep using nicotine products despite health consequences. 

Nicotine addiction is classified as a substance use disorder (SUD). In fact, it’s one of the most prevalent SUDs in the world. The biggest problem with nicotine addiction is that most people don’t consider it addiction at all since cigarettes are legal to purchase.

However, like any other type of addiction, nicotine addiction can affect a person’s quality of life in many ways. The same way other SUDs need a well-structured treatment, so does nicotine addiction.

What are the causes of Nicotine addiction?

Causes of nicotine addiction can be of biological, psychological, or social nature. The causes of nicotine addiction are listed below.

  • Biological causes: like other forms of addiction, nicotine addiction involves the brain’s reward center. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Greater exposure to nicotine downplays dopamine receptors, meaning you need more of it to experience the same effects.
  • Psychological causes: nicotine addiction shows high comorbidity with mental illnesses including ADHD, depression, anxiety disorders, and others, according to a study from the International Review of Neurobiology. Many people may use cigarettes to tackle the symptoms of their mental health problem, but eventually, nicotine addiction only worsens these conditions.
  • Social/environmental causes: peer pressure and other forms of exposure to nicotine contribute to the development of addiction. A person may grow up in a household where tobacco use is considered normal or they may socialize with persons who believe the same. Peer pressure in school is also one of the biggest reasons people start using nicotine-based products at an early age and develop dependence and addiction.

What are the effects of Nicotine addiction?

Effects of nicotine addiction can be physical and psychological, as well as short- and long-term. Nicotine doesn’t just affect the smoker, but other people too. Secondhand smoke effects are also present. The effects of nicotine addiction are listed below.

  • Physical effects: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, miscarriage, premature aging, weak immune system, weight gain, cold, flu, overall poorer physical health 
  • Psychological effects: increased anxiety and tension, and worsening of psychological and behavioral wellbeing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Short-term effects: relaxation, heightened mood, decreased appetite, increased heart rate, increased alertness, better memory
  • Long-term effects: lung cancer and other forms of cancer, chronic bronchitis, leukemia, infertility, loss of smell or taste, osteoporosis, and other health risks lack of social life
  • Secondhand smoke effects: respiratory problems, ear infections, problems with cardiovascular health such as hypertension and atherosclerosis
Burning-cigarette-standing-up

What are the signs and symptoms of Nicotine addiction?

The main signs and symptoms of nicotine addiction are listed below.

  • Trying, but being unable to stop using cigarettes and other tobacco products 
  • A strong desire or craving to keep smoking despite health problems
  • Withdrawal symptoms with ceased nicotine use
  • Requiring more nicotine to feel pleasure and satisfaction
  • Using nicotine products in larger amounts than intended
  • Hiding the true scope of nicotine use
  • Friends and family members expressing concerns regarding nicotine use 
  • Giving up social activities in situations when smoking cigarettes or tobacco use isn’t allowed
  • Using nicotine products first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed 
  • Spending a lot of money on cigarettes or other nicotine products

Nicotine addiction affects different aspects of a person’s life. This problem is more than constant smoking or the use of other tobacco products. Other possible nicotine addiction symptoms are listed below.

  1. Several unsuccessful attempts to stop smoking or reduce the number of cigarettes during the day 
  2. Being aware of health problems caused by nicotine, but continuing to use it
  3. Avoiding people, places, or situations that don’t allow smoking/nicotine use.

How to overcome Nicotine addiction?

In order to overcome nicotine addiction, a person needs strong willpower to quit. A support system at home is also necessary. 

One of the most important aspects of overcoming nicotine addiction is to avoid certain mistakes. Some people attempt to quit cigarettes by switching to e-cigarettes, but that is not the ideal way to combat nicotine addiction.

Many people end up using both “regular” and e-cigarettes, meaning their problems can become even worse. It’s not a wise idea to replace one nicotine-rich product with another.

There are many things you can do to overcome nicotine addiction. For example, you can join support groups. Also, evidence shows web-based cessation programs, texting interventions, and social media support groups can help in recovering from nicotine addiction.

A healthy lifestyle is also an important aspect of treating addiction to nicotine. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and proactive stress management can also help you. They improve both physical and psychological health, thereby enabling you to overcome cravings more effectively.

What are the risk factors for Nicotine addiction?

Risk factors of nicotine addiction include:

  • Age: most people are exposed to nicotine and start smoking in childhood or in adolescence. The younger a person is when starts smoking, the higher is the addiction risk, evidence such as the study from the Preventing Chronic Disease confirms.
  • Genetics: some people have a genetic predisposition to developing an addiction to nicotine. Some genetic factors may affect the response of receptors on the surface of the brain’s cells to high doses of nicotine. A study from Nature Communications confirmed that certain gene expressions can influence a person’s risk of developing nicotine addiction.
  • Parents and peers: growing up in a household with parents or other family members who are smokers also increases nicotine addiction risk. The same applies to socializing with persons who are smokers i.e. those who use nicotine.
  • Depression or other mental illness: certain mental illnesses increase the risk of nicotine dependence. These include depression, PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses.
  • Substance use: abusing alcohol or other substances increases the risk of nicotine use and addiction.

How do you treat Nicotine addiction?

Treating nicotine addiction usually requires a combination of medications and counseling. Medications in the treatment of nicotine addiction are, actually, nicotine replacement therapy that helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Some products are available with a prescription only whereas others can be purchased in the over-the-counter form. 

It’s not recommended to find and use these products on their own. A healthcare provider or addiction specialist recommends the best option based on the severity of nicotine addiction and other factors such as the overall health of an individual.

Medications are usually accompanied by counseling that helps patients develop the skills necessary to give up nicotine for good. Besides individual counseling sessions, group therapy sessions are also available, according to Mayo Clinic. The group sessions are useful because patients get to share their stories, experiences, and help each other.

In a study, published by the Addiction journal, cognitive-behavioral therapy was successful at helping subjects quit smoking.

Patients usually receive treatment for nicotine addiction in an outpatient setting, which doesn’t require them to live in the treatment facility. Residential or inpatient programs are also available.

Why is using Nicotine addictive?

Nicotine is addictive because it influences reward centers in the brain. Like other substances and chemicals, nicotine can promote the release of dopamine which produces pleasure and satisfaction.

Nicotine is an alkaloid produced by different types of plants with tobacco being the most significant. Since it’s a stimulant, nicotine speeds up the messages that travel between the brain and the body.

The main use of nicotine is through tobacco products that are either smoked or chewed.

The advantage of nicotine is that it may produce a relaxing sensation. But, the disadvantages are numerous. Nicotine is highly addictive and it’s easy to become dependent on it. With continuous use, nicotine can increase the risks of various health conditions.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the more a person smokes cigarettes, the more nicotine they need. In other words, they are teaching the brain to need more nicotine and keep using it. Eventually, this leads to addiction. 

Also, the way nicotine is processed by the body contributes to its addictiveness. When the smoke enters the lungs, the nicotine is absorbed quickly in the blood and delivered to the brain. The levels of this chemical achieve a peak within 10 seconds upon inhalation. 

Just like the effects occur rapidly, they also go away fast. That’s why a person needs to take another cigarette right after finishing off the previous one. This creates a vicious cycle that ends in addiction.

When is Nicotine addiction counseling necessary?

Nicotine addiction counseling is necessary when a person acknowledges the existence of a problem. In other words, they may think about quitting using tobacco products or trying to do so unsuccessfully. 

Sometimes, underlying mental health problems may contribute to nicotine addiction. Plus, nicotine addiction may induce strong withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, that are difficult for a person to resist. 

With counseling, an individual with nicotine addiction adopts healthy coping mechanisms and skills that reduce cravings and allow them to quit smoking or use tobacco products successfully.

According to the CDC, 57.2% of adult smokers, or 18.8 million people who had seen a health professional quit smoking, successfully achieved it in 2015. Even brief advice from a professional can improve a person’s chances of quitting.

What are the symptoms of Nicotine addiction withdrawal?

Symptoms of nicotine addiction withdrawal include cravings, headaches, anger, frustration, irritability, anxiety and depression, trouble concentrating, insomnia, increased appetite, and restlessness. Some people may also experience dizziness, constipation, nausea, nightmares, and sore throat. 

According to a study from the Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, symptoms of nicotine can be classified into somatic, cognitive, and affective. Somatic symptoms include tremors, gastrointestinal discomfort, bradycardia (slower than normal heart rate), and increased appetite. 

Cognitive manifestations include impaired memory and difficulty concentrating. On the other hand, affective symptoms range from anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and depression or anxiety to irritability, hyperalgesia (higher pain sensitivity), and dysphoria (state of unease or dissatisfaction).

The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal last between several days and a couple of weeks. The first week is the hardest, especially days 3 through 5. This is the time when nicotine is cleared out of the body.

What are the complications of Nicotine addiction?

Complications of nicotine addiction include:

  • Lung cancer and disease: nicotine use is the leading cause of lung cancer, but besides this severe disease it can also lead to chronic bronchitis and emphysema (gradual damage of lung tissue). Additionally, nicotine addiction can worsen asthma.
  • Diabetes: tobacco products, which contain nicotine, increase insulin resistance meaning they can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. In persons with diabetes, nicotine addiction can worsen the disease.
  • Cardiovascular problems: nicotine products constrict blood vessels i.e. they make them narrower. When that happens, blood flow is impaired. This leads to various problems including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. At the same time, nicotine addiction worsens the existing cardiovascular problems.
  • Cancer: besides lung cancer, nicotine addiction can pave the way to other forms of this severe disease including cancer of the throat (pharynx), mouth, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, cervix, kidney, and some types of leukemia. According to Mayo Clinic, smoking contributes to 30% of cancer-related deaths.
  • Eye problems: nicotine addiction can contribute to the development of macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Gum disease: nicotine addiction is linked to a higher risk of periodontitis, a serious form of gum disease that destroys the support system for teeth. This gum disease can cause tooth loss.
  • Infertility and impotence: nicotine addiction has a negative impact on fertility in women and may contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. The latter occurs due to weak blood flow; erections depend on optimal blood circulation.
  • Pregnancy complications: the same way nicotine addiction causes fertility struggles, it also contributes to complications in pregnancy. The most common complication is preterm delivery meaning babies have a lower birth weight.
person-holding-a-cigarette

Nicotine addiction can lead to various complications that affect a person’s quality of life. The most common complications of nicotine addiction are listed below.

  1. Problems with lungs and respiratory system
  2. Problems with cardiovascular health
  3. Cancers and other diseases caused by exposure to nicotine products and other chemicals found in cigarettes etc.

What are the alternatives and natural remedies for Nicotine addiction?

Alternatives and natural remedies for nicotine addiction can help support a person in their recovery. They revolve around lifestyle adjustments, ancient practices, and various herbs a person can use. The most important alternatives and natural remedies for nicotine addiction are listed below.

  • Acupuncture: an ancient painless practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body in order to improve energy flow. The benefits of acupuncture are numerous and they range from stress management to migraine relief. Many people use acupuncture to recover from nicotine addiction. This practice that originated in China is generally used in combination with other treatment approaches. The American Journal of Medicine published a study that showed a combination of acupuncture and hypnotherapy could help smokers quit. Subjects that received acupuncture had higher rates of smoking cessation than their counterparts who did not.
  • Hypnosis: one of the most common alternative treatments for nicotine addiction. Hypnosis helps by allowing a person to focus on their own resources in order to overcome their problem. The effectiveness of hypnosis is not supported by scientific evidence, but many people give it a try because it doesn’t involve the use of medications. For hypnosis to work, it’s important to trust a hypnotherapist and the whole process.
  • Herbal remedies: some herbal remedies could decrease cravings and symptoms of nicotine addiction withdrawal. A good example of these remedies is green tea, which is known for its potential to control cravings, especially in the detox phase. Besides the tea form, green tea supplements are also available. Also, green tea can protect the lungs. Other herbal remedies include St. John’s wort and lobelia.
  • Lifestyle modifications: some subtle changes in lifestyle can help reduce cravings and recover from nicotine addiction. These include eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, staying hydrated, avoiding sugar and caffeine, meditation and deep breathing techniques, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol, and getting enough sleep.

The main purpose of alternatives and natural remedies is to support the recovery from nicotine addiction, they don’t eliminate the addiction on their own. They work by decreasing the intensity of cravings and thereby making withdrawal symptoms more tolerable. Other useful alternatives and natural remedies for nicotine addiction are listed below.

  1. Meditation 
  2. Deep breathing
  3. Regular exercise
  4. Well-balanced diet
  5. Getting enough sleep
  6. Drinking plenty of water 
  7. Reducing or avoiding intake of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol

How does the body become dependent on Nicotine?

The body becomes dependent on nicotine because it causes chemical changes in the brain. It takes a matter of seconds for nicotine to reach the brain after each puff of a cigarette. In the brain, nicotine influences the release of neurotransmitters that control behavior and mood. Dopamine is one of them.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain’s reward center and it’s in charge of good mood and feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Repeated exposure to nicotine reduces the expression of dopamine receptors in the brain. This is called neuroadaptation, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine explains. As a result, a person needs more nicotine to feel the same effects of relaxation and pleasure. This creates a vicious cycle that leads to nicotine dependence and addiction.

What is the difference between Nicotine and Tobacco?

The main difference between nicotine and tobacco is that nicotine is a chemical found in tobacco. On the other hand, tobacco is a plant Nicotiana tabacum grown for its leaves. The leaves of tobacco are smoked, chewed, or sniffed.

All tobacco products contain nicotine, including cigars, cigarettes, hookah tobacco, smokeless tobacco, non-combusted cigarettes, and even e-cigarettes. The level of nicotine is different from one product to another. 

The concentration of nicotine in cigarettes ranges from 6mg to 28mg, but the average content is 10-12mg. A person doesn’t inhale every milligram of nicotine as it burns. Instead, they tend to inhale anywhere from 1.1mg to 1.8mg from each cigarette meaning they inhale between 22mg and 36mg from a pack of 20 cigarettes. 

Large cigars contain between 13.3mg and 15.4mg of nicotine whereas e-cigarettes have 0.5-15.4mg. A whole can of chewing tobacco contains 144mg of nicotine whereas hookah has 1.04mg per puff, Healthline reports. 

Besides nicotine addiction, a person may develop tobacco addiction too. Contrary to the popular belief, these conditions aren’t the same. Tobacco addiction is a compulsive need to use tobacco products regardless of the consequences they may cause. Nicotine is not the only addictive chemical in tobacco. A combination of acetaldehyde and other additives makes tobacco products even more addictive, according to the European Commission Public Health.

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