The substance known as Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in the tobacco plant. Nicotine addiction is physical, mental, and can also be behavioral. People can 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 primarily consumed by inhaling the smoke of tobacco cigarettes. Other ways to smoke tobacco include pipes and cigars. According to the surgeon general, nicotine, a stimulant found in tobacco plants, is one of the most heavily used drugs in the United States, and it’s just as addictive as cocaine or heroin.
Nicotine products are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). While nicotine is legal, it is illegal to sell or distribute nicotine-containing products to people under 18. Fewer people at legal age are smoking today than ever before, but it remains the most preventable cause of death in the United States, accounting for 480,000 deaths annually. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2018 indicate that 13.7% of the U.S. adult population smoke cigarettes.
Also known as Nicotine products include cigarettes also known as “smokes”; pipes, cigars (sometimes referred to as “stogies”), chewing tobacco (also known as “dip” or “chew”), snuff, hookahs, and e-cigarettes (also known as “e-cigs” and “vapes”).
Drug Class: Nicotine is classified as a stimulant.
Most people know that cigarettes and other tobacco products are addictive, but many people do not understand the role of nicotine in tobacco addiction, disease, and death. Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain thousands of chemicals. This mix of chemicals—not nicotine—causes severe disease and death in tobacco users, including fatal lung diseases, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer.
What Does Nicotine Do?
When a person inhales cigarette smoke, the nicotine rapidly absorbs into the blood and starts affecting the brain within 10 seconds. Once there, nicotine triggers several chemical reactions that create temporary feelings of pleasure and concentration. But these sensations are short-lived, subsiding within minutes. These chemical reactions include releasing catecholamines such as adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone. Physically, adrenaline increases heart rate and blood pressure. When this occurs, smokers may experience rapid, shallow breathing and the feeling of a racing heartbeat. Adrenaline also tells the body to dump excess glucose into the bloodstream. Nicotine also curbs appetite and may contribute to weight loss in complex ways.
Effects Of Nicotine Addiction
Nicotine creates pleasant feelings in the body and mind. When you use tobacco, your brain releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine, the feel-good chemical. This makes a brief sense of contentment and pleasure. But besides nicotine, tobacco cigarettes and smokeless tobacco contain many cancer-causing agents and other harmful substances. The nearly 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco have physical, mental, and psychological effects. Using tobacco leads to grave health complications, including:
- Heart Disease
- Eye Issues, such as cataracts and macular degeneration
- Cold, flu, and respiratory infections
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
- The appearance of premature aging
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Gum disease and dental issues
- Miscarriage and pregnancy complications
- Lung Cancer
- Weakened immune system
- Cancer especially in the respiratory system
Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease among people close to smokers.
Nicotine Addiction Common Side Effects
Nicotine causes a range of effects on both the body and mind, including:
- Increased Activity in the intestines
- High Production of saliva and phlegm
- Increased Alertness
- Decreased Appetite
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Increased Heart Rate
- Heightened Mood
Signs Nicotine Addiction
If your loved one is smoking cigarettes, you’ll likely be able to smell it on them. Unfortunately, detecting vaping can be a bit more complicated—but there are still some signs of use:
- Devices: E-cigarettes or “vape pens” can look like a thumb drive, pen, or stylus, with holes on each end.
- Irritability: This is a classic sign of withdrawal.
- Sweet Smells: Vapor juice is often flavored, so if you suddenly catch a whiff of fruit punch or bubble gum (and there’s no candy around), it could be a red flag.
- Nosebleeds: Vaping can dry out the nasal passages and cause nose bleeds.
- Drinking More Liquids: The vaporized liquid in e-cigs contains propylene glycol, which attracts and holds water molecules from the mouth, causing constant dry mouth.
Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Nicotine is highly addictive and, when used regularly, your body and mind learn to expect a certain amount of nicotine each day—and if it doesn’t get it, withdrawal can be intense. In addition, you can quickly build a tolerance to nicotine, needing more to reach the desired effect. This is one reason why it’s so hard (but not impossible) to quit smoking.
As the nicotine level drops in the blood, people may feel edgy and agitated—the start of nicotine withdrawal. The acute effects of nicotine wear off within minutes, so people who smoke must continue dosing themselves frequently throughout the day to maintain nicotine’s pleasurable effects and prevent nicotine withdrawal.
Physical and Psychological Symptoms
- Sore Throat
- Dry Mouth
- Sore Tongue
- Tightness in the chest
- Inability to concentrate
- Irritability, crankiness
- Cravings to smoke
- Postnasal Drip
Things To Consider For Your Health With Nicotine
- Addiction: Using any tobacco product containing nicotine can lead to nicotine addiction. This is because nicotine can change the way the brain works, causing cravings for more of it. Some tobacco products, like cigarettes, are designed to deliver nicotine to the brain within seconds, making it easier to become dependent on nicotine and more challenging to quit. In addition, while nicotine naturally occurs in the tobacco plant itself, some tobacco products contain additives that may increase the absorption of nicotine.
- Adolescent Brain Development: Although many people underestimate how easy it is to become addicted to nicotine, young people are the most at risk for nicotine addiction because their brains are still developing. When they start using tobacco, the younger a person is, the more likely they become addicted. Nicotine exposure during adolescence can disrupt normal brain development and may have long-lasting effects, such as increased impulsivity and mood disorders. Because of nicotine’s powerfully addictive nature and profound impact on the developing brain, no tobacco products are safe for youth to use.
- Pregnancy and Fetal Health: If pregnant women use tobacco products, nicotine can cross the placenta and have multiple adverse consequences because these outcomes may include but are not limited to premature labor, low birth weight; respiratory failure at birth; and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Nicotine and Adult Harm Reduction
- E-Cigarettes: FDA is committed to protecting the public health of all Americans while regulating an addictive product that carries with it health risks. To this end, the agency is conducting ongoing research on potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery for adults, such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes. Though more research on individual and population health effects is needed, many studies suggest e-cigarettes may be less harmful than combustible cigarettes.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapies: Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) poses the lowest risk to health among all nicotine-containing products and thus falls on the opposite end of the nicotine-delivery risk spectrum, whereas cigarettes are the most harmful. FDA-approved NRTs are designed to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and help adults quit smoking by delivering small amounts of nicotine to the brain without the toxic chemicals present in cigarette smoke. NRTs are safe and effective cessation methods that can double an addicted smoker’s chances of successfully quitting cigarettes if appropriately used. NRTs are available both by prescription in the form of an oral inhaler and nasal spray and over the counter for adults aged 18 and over as skin patches, lozenges, and gum.
We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. We work as an integrated team providing support through nicotine addiction and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine – https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24952/public-health-consequences-of-e-cigarettes
FDA – https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/products-ingredients-components/how-cigarettes-are-made-and-how-you-can-make-plan-quit