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Nicotine Dependence: Symptoms and Causes

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Jun 21, 2021

Nicotine Dependence: Symptoms and Causes

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that comes from tobacco plants. It is present in cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco. And when taken in by the body, high levels of nicotine can lead to life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes, emphysema and stroke among many others. The World Health Organization (WHO) said tobacco smoking is the leading cause of preventable cancers and causes 5.4 million deaths every year.

Nicotine enters the body through smoking tobacco products, which is a hard habit to break. How can you tell if you have nicotine dependence? Find out in this article as it takes you through the symptoms and causes of the addiction.

Why is Nicotine Addictive?

When you puff at a cigarette, nicotine reaches your brain at lightning speed and disrupts the autonomic functions of your body. It stimulates the production of different hormones in your body that increase your heart rate, constrict your arteries and raise your blood pressure, thus resulting in poor blood circulation that leads to a variety of health conditions. Nicotine prompts the brain to release the hormone dopamine that stimulates feelings of happiness and relaxation and activates the brain's reward system as well.

Because of the positive feelings you get from smoking, your brain perceives nicotine to be good for the body so you want to smoke more. However, as you try to sustain the feelings of pleasure by frequent cigarette smoking, you get trapped in a damaging habit from which the roots of ill health develop.

Besides dopamine, the brain releases another hormone called epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, each time you smoke a cigarette. This chemical triggers the body's fight or flight response during a stressful situation. High amounts of epinephrine increase blood pressure and heart rate, forcing the heart to pump harder which makes breathing difficult.

What Are the Causes of Nicotine Dependence?

Causes of nicotine addiction

Everyone wants to feel good because it gives them the motivation to think clearly and act with purpose. Unfortunately, some people look in the wrong direction to escape stress and boredom. They turn to smoking because the effects of nicotine improve their mood, but little do they know that heavy smoking does more harm than good to their brain and body. 

While boredom and tension are the most common reasons why a cigarette smoker would light a stick, others claim that there are other factors that contribute to the habit. One daily smoker we spoke with claimed that coffee and cigarettes go hand in hand; one cannot be enjoyed without the other. An occasional smoker, on the other hand, said they don't usually feel the urge to smoke a cigarette unless they are in a social event. Cigarette smoking with friends, especially while drinking alcohol, is their concept of relaxation after a long, stressful day at work.

However, being an occasional smoker does not spare you from the dangers of nicotine dependence. In fact, several studies revealed that even smoking an e-cigarette or chewing on a nicotine gum does not lessen your chances of developing diseases linked to cigarette smoking. It is as dangerous as smoking traditional tobacco products because it also contains high doses of nicotine.

The only way to prevent nicotine addiction is to steer clear of situations that will trigger you to smoke. There's no denying the fact, though, that certain individuals have a higher risk of developing an addiction to nicotine, including the following:

  • People who started smoking at a very young age
  • Children with a smoking mother or father
  • People who are addicted to alcohol and illegal drugs
  • People who have a mental disorder

What Are the Symptoms of Nicotine Dependence?

Have you tried to quit tobacco smoking before but experienced constant headaches and irritability? So, in the end, you went back to your daily smoking behavior? Chances are you have developed a strong nicotine addiction which is poisoning your body little by little. A daily smoker who can smoke more than 5 cigarettes per day, or a whole pack, is clearly close to experiencing a nicotine overdose. 

Don't wait for that to happen. If you manifest the symptoms below and suspect that you may be nicotine dependent, it's high time that you sought the help of a health care provider before the effects of cigarette on your health take a turn for the worse:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Unexplainable weight loss
  • You keep smoking even though you have lung or heart problems
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • You exhibit a withdrawal symptom when you don't smoke

It's important to note that it's not only daily smoking that produces a high level of nicotine in the blood; receiving secondhand smoke increases one's risk too. That means, everyone in the household of a habitual smoker can develop the same conditions that the latter is at risk of because of their constant exposure to nicotine in cigarette smoke suspended in the air.

What is Nicotine Withdrawal?

The effects of nicotine withdrawal are experienced when the level of the chemical in the blood drops after the body has not received nicotine for quite some time. Feeling irritable most of the time is a common nicotine withdrawal symptom that you must not give into if you want to quit smoking for good. You may also experience other physical and psychological effects such as the following:

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal: headache   Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal: insomnia   Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal: frustration

If you experience any of these while reducing your smoking frequency,  then that's a clear sign of physical dependence on nicotine. The effects of nicotine withdrawal on your mind and body depends on how long you've been smoking or your level of addiction to tobacco. If your body has to eliminate only a small amount of nicotine, then you're likely to overcome the side effects of the withdrawal in a couple of days. However, if you've been smoking since your teenage years, then you're more likely to experience them for two to three weeks.

How Can You Relieve Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?

To ease the nicotine withdrawal symptoms, some habitual smokers would substitute cigarettes with a nicotine inhaler or gum as it contains a smaller dose of nicotine. However, research shows that choosing the lesser of two evils seldom produces successful outcomes because most smokers go back to their smoking behavior once they get tired of their quit-smoking aids. 

The effects of smoking can interfere with the body's natural functions, causing irreparable damage to one's physical, mental and emotional health. Many people do not realise the dangers of nicotine addiction until their last tobacco smoke leads them to an intensive care unit. The treatment of nicotine addiction is more viable than a serious health condition resulting from prolonged exposure to smoking.

Light or heavy smoking does not change how a person experiences the negative effects of nicotine. There is no other way to address dependence on nicotine than by quitting smoking for good and avoiding secondhand smoke. If you don't smoke, but someone in your family does, don't wait until they are diagnosed with lung cancer, abdominal aortic aneurysm, cardiovascular disease or other deadly illnesses before convincing them to stop. 

An adolescent smoker needs utmost attention because their addiction to tobacco can take a massive toll on their young mind and body. Although it's the primary reason for many health problems, cigarette smoking is not a hopeless case. With the help of a counsellor, hypnotherapist or other natural health practitioners who specialise in mind-body therapies, it's not impossible to change one's response to nicotine.

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FAQs About Nicotine Dependence

How long does it take to develop nicotine dependence?

A previous study showed that it only takes a few days to a month of smoking to develop nicotine dependence. It doesn't matter if you smoke traditional tobacco products or electronic cigarettes as all these products contain nicotine.

What is a smoker's leg?

Smoker's leg refers to peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition wherein the lower limbs do not receive ample supply of blood, hence causing leg numbness, pain and cramping. The condition is attributed to heavy smoking, poor diet and obesity.

What happens if you quit smoking suddenly?

Quitting smoking cold turkey will cause headaches, irritability and constant cravings for nicotine in the first three days. After a month or so, you will feel a big improvement in your respiratory system. You will be able to breathe effortlessly and perform more physical activities.

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