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Why Is Nicotine Addictive?

Nicotine addiction is behavioral. People become dependent on the actions involved with using tobacco. They also become accustomed to using tobacco in certain situations, such as after meals or under stress. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical compound present in a tobacco plant. All tobacco products contain nicotine, including cigarettes, non-combusted cigarettes (commonly referred to as “heat-not-burn tobacco products” or “heated tobacco products”), cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, and most e-cigarettes. Most people with an addiction to nicotine are aware of the harm tobacco causes, yet they continue to use the substance. This abusive behavior is a characteristic of addiction.

If you have diabetes, you may need to check your blood sugar more often after you quit because your levels may go down. You won’t need to check as often after your body adjusts to being smoke-free. Nicotine replacement products such as gum, patches, and lozenges are some of the best tools to help you stop smoking—they can double your chances of quitting for good. Products with nicotine raise your blood sugar, so be sure to talk to your doctor about using them if you have diabetes.

Diabetes And Smoking
People with diabetes who smoke need larger doses of insulin to control their blood sugar. 

Drug use is pleasurable because addictive drugs directly stimulate the reward center, tricking the brain into thinking something great just happened. The pleasurable sensation is the hook that makes people use the drug again and again. Regardless of how long you’ve smoked, stopping can improve your health. It isn’t easy, but you can break your nicotine dependence. Many effective addiction treatments are available.

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How Addictive Is Nicotine?

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [1] reported that cigarette smoking remains a leading cause of preventable disease and premature death in the United States and other countries.

On average, 435,000 people in the United States die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each year. Overall, smoking causes 1 in 5 deaths. Thus, the chance that a lifelong smoker will die prematurely from a complication of smoking is approximately 50%. Currently, about 45 million Americans smoke tobacco. Seventy percent of smokers say they would like to quit, and every year, 40% do quit for at least 1 day. Some highly addicted smokers make serious attempts to quit but can stop only for a few hours.

Moreover, the 80% who attempt to quit on their own return to smoking within a month, and each year, only 3% of smokers quit successfully. Unfortunately, the rate at which persons — primarily children and adolescents — become daily smokers nearly matches the quit rate, so the prevalence of cigarette smoking has declined only very slowly in recent years according to NCBI. [2]

On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Quit for Good

No matter how long you’ve smoked—or how much—quitting will help you get healthier. As soon as you stop smoking, your body starts healing itself:

  • In 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop
  • In 12 hours, carbon monoxide (a toxic gas from cigarette smoke) in your blood drops to normal
  • In 2 weeks to 3 months, your circulation and lung function improve
  • In a year, your risk for heart disease is half that of someone who still smokes

Quitting smoking also helps your body use insulin better, which can make your blood sugar levels easier to manage. Diabetes and smoking are never a good combination.

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Nicotine And Diabetes

Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States, killing more Americans per year than AIDS, alcoholism, car accidents, homicide, suicide, illegal drugs, and fires combined. You may be aware that cigarettes increase a person’s risk of cancer, as well as diseases of the heart, lungs, and other organs. But you might not know that smoking is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. 

Managing diabetes is challenging, and smoking can make it even more so. Nicotine increases your blood sugar levels and makes them harder to handle. People with diabetes who smoke often need larger doses of insulin to keep their blood sugar close to their target levels.

Diabetes causes serious health complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage that can lead to amputation (removal by surgery) of a toe, foot, or leg. If you have diabetes and smoke, you’re more likely to have complications—and worse complications—than people who have diabetes and don’t smoke.

Heart disease deserves special attention. It’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and both smoking and diabetes increase your risk. Over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels as well as nerves in and around your heart. Cigarette smoking can damage blood vessels too by increasing plaque (a fatty, waxy substance that builds up on your artery walls).

There are two primary types of diabetes:

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas for converting the glucose and carbohydrates that we eat into energy the body can use. Though it has been referred to in the past as “juvenile diabetes,” this type of diabetes can develop at any age, in any race, and is not related to body weight.  Approximately 5 percent of diabetics have Type 1 diabetes; these individuals must use insulin therapy.

Diabetes And Smoking
The risk of developing diabetes increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Individuals with Type 2 diabetes have an abnormality in the way their bodies use the insulin that causes blood sugar—or blood glucose—to be too high.  People with Type 2 diabetes may have adequate or even elevated levels of insulin, but their bodies cannot use it properly. Type 2 diabetes—which accounts for more than 90 percent of all diabetes cases—is a serious condition. 

In the past, Type 2 diabetes was thought to be a disease primarily seen in adults and acquired later in life.  However, in the last 20 years, there has been an increase in the incidence of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents.  The rise of Type 2 diabetes among youth has been linked to childhood obesity.  In 2016, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

The chemicals in cigarettes cause harm to your body’s cells and can interfere with their normal function.  This can cause inflammation throughout the body, which may decrease the effectiveness of insulin.  Additionally, when chemicals from cigarette smoke meet oxygen in the body, this process can also cause cell damage, called oxidative stress.  Both oxidative stress and inflammation may be related to an increased risk of diabetes.

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Link Between Nicotine And Diabetes Type 2

Everyone knows cigarette smoking is bad for you, but did you know it can lead to type 2 diabetes? And if you have diabetes, smoking can make it much worse. A new discovery has been released by National Institute on Drug Abuse that illuminates the brain link between nicotine and diabetes. The study suggested that smokers stand a 30-40 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. More broadly, these findings suggest that type 2 diabetes – and perhaps other cigarette smoking-related diseases in which abnormalities in the autonomic nervous system play a role, such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease – originate in the brain and implicate nicotine-induced disrupted interactions between the habenula and the peripheral nervous system. [3]

How Smoking Can Lead to Type 2 Diabetes

  • Insulin helps blood sugar enter cells, but nicotine changes cells so they don’t respond to insulin, which increases blood sugar levels.
  • Chemicals in cigarettes harm cells in your body and cause inflammation. This also makes cells stop responding to insulin.
  • People who smoke have a higher risk of belly fat, which increases the risk for type 2 diabetes even if they aren’t overweight.

All in all, if you smoke, you’re 30% to 40% more likely to get type 2 diabetes than people who don’t smoke. The more you smoke, the higher your risk. [4]

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Nicotine Addiction Treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Nicotine replacement medications, such as tablets, gums, or patches, may also help people quit smoking by relieving withdrawal symptoms, often a major obstacle to quitting. Because skin absorption and oral ingestion of nicotine are slower and result in much lower peak levels than smoking, these forms of nicotine are less rewarding than inhaled nicotine. They can help smokers taper off with fewer withdrawal symptoms and cravings. In addition, Bupropion, an antidepressant (brand names Wellbutrin, Zyban, and others), can help smokers quit by mimicking the effects of nicotine, thus reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Diabetes And Smoking
Support groups program.

Supportive Treatment

Behavioral counseling is a mainstay of treatment for substance use disorders and can help people quit. Helplines and digital tools are available and can be very helpful as an individual or group therapy. While optimal treatment combines behavioral counseling with medication-assisted treatment, if medications are not available, counseling can be effective on its own. A person with nicotine addiction can also benefit from health screening to identify and treat medical problems caused by smoking, such as breathing issues and heart disease.

Don’t give up if you’re not able to quit on your first try because diabetes and smoking are dangerous to your body. Smoking can make it harder to control your blood sugar. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. It can take several attempts until you’re smoke-free for good (though some people quit their first time). And you don’t have to do it alone: ask friends and family for support, try contacting We Level Up addiction rehab center for professional assistance.

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