Nicotine Addiction

Reviewed Nov 1, 2017

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Summary

  • Nicotine is the drug found naturally in tobacco that leads to addiction.
  • The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood.
  • Many factors aside from nicotine itself contribute to tobacco addiction.

Most people who smoke cigarettes want to quit. Yet, they rarely do on their first try. So, why is quitting smoking so hard? The answer lies in the addictive nature of nicotine. It is a drug found naturally in tobacco. It is the main reason why one-third of people who ever try cigarettes become people who smoke daily. Using cigars or smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff or chew, also can lead to nicotine addiction.

What is nicotine addiction?

It has certain features. These include:

  • Increased tolerance. The more you use tobacco, the more tobacco you need to feel the effects. Or, the effects lessen with the same amount of tobacco used.
  • Withdrawal. These are symptoms that start within a few hours after using tobacco. They include: feeling anxious, tense, restless or impatient; feeling unhappy or angry; feeling hungry; and having a hard time concentrating.
  • Intense cravings for tobacco. Withdrawal symptoms can trigger cravings. So can certain situations or cues, such as job stress, finishing a meal, or going out with friends.
  • Having a hard time controlling tobacco use. This includes failed efforts to quit or cut back, or maintaining the same level of use.
  • Putting tobacco use ahead of other activities or things you must do.
  • Using tobacco despite the harms, whether they are physical, emotional, or social.

How do smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco use lead to addiction?

The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood. Ongoing exposure leads to brain changes that play a role in addiction. For instance, it activates reward and pleasure pathways in the brain, which reinforce tobacco use.

Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and depressant. It can boost alertness, attention, and memory. Yet, people also use it to relax and feel at ease. But, these effects last a short time. So, people must keep on using it to maintain the desired effects.

With cigarettes, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and enters the bloodstream quickly. It reaches the brain within 10 seconds after the smoke is inhaled. The rapid delivery and absorption of nicotine is one reason cigarettes are so addictive. But smokeless tobacco products or other forms of nicotine, including e-cigarettes, can also lead to addiction. No tobacco product is harmless.

Many factors other than the nicotine itself contribute to nicotine addiction:

  • Other ingredients in tobacco products can enhance or reinforce the effects of nicotine.
  • Learned behaviors and associations also powerfully reinforce and contribute to addiction. For example, the smell and taste of coffee can trigger nicotine craving in people who always smoke while drinking coffee. The ritual of opening a new pack and holding the cigarette reinforces addiction for some people who smoke.

The study of nicotine addiction continues to evolve. Many experts now use the term tobacco addiction because factors other than nicotine can contribute to addiction. Scientists are also beginning to reveal other pathways to addiction. For instance, certain genes or environmental factors may increase a person’s risk of addiction should they ever try tobacco. Also, smoking rates are higher among people with depression or other mental health problems. Scientists want to better understand how they are related.

Aside from its addictive properties, is nicotine in tobacco products harmful?

Health experts do not view nicotine as a major health threat. Although addictive, nicotine itself does not cause cancer. Rather tobacco smoke contains more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals, including tar. Tar causes lung cancer and lung disease. Carbon monoxide—another harmful agent found in tobacco smoke—contributes to lung and heart diseases. Smokeless forms of tobacco also contain many cancer-causing chemicals.

Nicotine does affect the brain and other parts of the body. It can cause your pulse and blood pressure to rise. Nicotine may contribute to the buildup of plaque on arteries, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. And, nicotine exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.

Importantly, when nicotine is used as medicine, it can actually help people addicted to tobacco to give it up.

Are electronic cigarettes harmless?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery- operated devices that people use to inhale nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Research suggests that e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke them switch to a complete replacement. E-cigarette use exposes the lungs to many chemicals which may contain known cancer causing agents and toxic chemicals and metals. Nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug and may prime the brain’s reward system putting people at risk for addiction to other drugs.

Can people overcome nicotine addiction?

Yes! If you want to give up nicotine for good, talk to your doctor. Many strategies are proven to help overcome tobacco addiction. You can do it!

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

www.smokefree.gov

1-800-QUIT-NOW

By Christine P. Martin
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010; Research reports: tobacco addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-addiction and www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes; Smokeless tobacco facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Why is it so hard to quit? American Heart Association, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/Why-is-it-so-hard-to-quit_UCM_324053_Article.jsp.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Nicotine is the drug found naturally in tobacco that leads to addiction.
  • The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood.
  • Many factors aside from nicotine itself contribute to tobacco addiction.

Most people who smoke cigarettes want to quit. Yet, they rarely do on their first try. So, why is quitting smoking so hard? The answer lies in the addictive nature of nicotine. It is a drug found naturally in tobacco. It is the main reason why one-third of people who ever try cigarettes become people who smoke daily. Using cigars or smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff or chew, also can lead to nicotine addiction.

What is nicotine addiction?

It has certain features. These include:

  • Increased tolerance. The more you use tobacco, the more tobacco you need to feel the effects. Or, the effects lessen with the same amount of tobacco used.
  • Withdrawal. These are symptoms that start within a few hours after using tobacco. They include: feeling anxious, tense, restless or impatient; feeling unhappy or angry; feeling hungry; and having a hard time concentrating.
  • Intense cravings for tobacco. Withdrawal symptoms can trigger cravings. So can certain situations or cues, such as job stress, finishing a meal, or going out with friends.
  • Having a hard time controlling tobacco use. This includes failed efforts to quit or cut back, or maintaining the same level of use.
  • Putting tobacco use ahead of other activities or things you must do.
  • Using tobacco despite the harms, whether they are physical, emotional, or social.

How do smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco use lead to addiction?

The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood. Ongoing exposure leads to brain changes that play a role in addiction. For instance, it activates reward and pleasure pathways in the brain, which reinforce tobacco use.

Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and depressant. It can boost alertness, attention, and memory. Yet, people also use it to relax and feel at ease. But, these effects last a short time. So, people must keep on using it to maintain the desired effects.

With cigarettes, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and enters the bloodstream quickly. It reaches the brain within 10 seconds after the smoke is inhaled. The rapid delivery and absorption of nicotine is one reason cigarettes are so addictive. But smokeless tobacco products or other forms of nicotine, including e-cigarettes, can also lead to addiction. No tobacco product is harmless.

Many factors other than the nicotine itself contribute to nicotine addiction:

  • Other ingredients in tobacco products can enhance or reinforce the effects of nicotine.
  • Learned behaviors and associations also powerfully reinforce and contribute to addiction. For example, the smell and taste of coffee can trigger nicotine craving in people who always smoke while drinking coffee. The ritual of opening a new pack and holding the cigarette reinforces addiction for some people who smoke.

The study of nicotine addiction continues to evolve. Many experts now use the term tobacco addiction because factors other than nicotine can contribute to addiction. Scientists are also beginning to reveal other pathways to addiction. For instance, certain genes or environmental factors may increase a person’s risk of addiction should they ever try tobacco. Also, smoking rates are higher among people with depression or other mental health problems. Scientists want to better understand how they are related.

Aside from its addictive properties, is nicotine in tobacco products harmful?

Health experts do not view nicotine as a major health threat. Although addictive, nicotine itself does not cause cancer. Rather tobacco smoke contains more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals, including tar. Tar causes lung cancer and lung disease. Carbon monoxide—another harmful agent found in tobacco smoke—contributes to lung and heart diseases. Smokeless forms of tobacco also contain many cancer-causing chemicals.

Nicotine does affect the brain and other parts of the body. It can cause your pulse and blood pressure to rise. Nicotine may contribute to the buildup of plaque on arteries, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. And, nicotine exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.

Importantly, when nicotine is used as medicine, it can actually help people addicted to tobacco to give it up.

Are electronic cigarettes harmless?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery- operated devices that people use to inhale nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Research suggests that e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke them switch to a complete replacement. E-cigarette use exposes the lungs to many chemicals which may contain known cancer causing agents and toxic chemicals and metals. Nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug and may prime the brain’s reward system putting people at risk for addiction to other drugs.

Can people overcome nicotine addiction?

Yes! If you want to give up nicotine for good, talk to your doctor. Many strategies are proven to help overcome tobacco addiction. You can do it!

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

www.smokefree.gov

1-800-QUIT-NOW

By Christine P. Martin
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010; Research reports: tobacco addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-addiction and www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes; Smokeless tobacco facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Why is it so hard to quit? American Heart Association, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/Why-is-it-so-hard-to-quit_UCM_324053_Article.jsp.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Nicotine is the drug found naturally in tobacco that leads to addiction.
  • The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood.
  • Many factors aside from nicotine itself contribute to tobacco addiction.

Most people who smoke cigarettes want to quit. Yet, they rarely do on their first try. So, why is quitting smoking so hard? The answer lies in the addictive nature of nicotine. It is a drug found naturally in tobacco. It is the main reason why one-third of people who ever try cigarettes become people who smoke daily. Using cigars or smokeless tobacco products, such as snuff or chew, also can lead to nicotine addiction.

What is nicotine addiction?

It has certain features. These include:

  • Increased tolerance. The more you use tobacco, the more tobacco you need to feel the effects. Or, the effects lessen with the same amount of tobacco used.
  • Withdrawal. These are symptoms that start within a few hours after using tobacco. They include: feeling anxious, tense, restless or impatient; feeling unhappy or angry; feeling hungry; and having a hard time concentrating.
  • Intense cravings for tobacco. Withdrawal symptoms can trigger cravings. So can certain situations or cues, such as job stress, finishing a meal, or going out with friends.
  • Having a hard time controlling tobacco use. This includes failed efforts to quit or cut back, or maintaining the same level of use.
  • Putting tobacco use ahead of other activities or things you must do.
  • Using tobacco despite the harms, whether they are physical, emotional, or social.

How do smoking cigarettes and other forms of tobacco use lead to addiction?

The path to nicotine addiction is complex and not fully understood. Ongoing exposure leads to brain changes that play a role in addiction. For instance, it activates reward and pleasure pathways in the brain, which reinforce tobacco use.

Nicotine acts as both a stimulant and depressant. It can boost alertness, attention, and memory. Yet, people also use it to relax and feel at ease. But, these effects last a short time. So, people must keep on using it to maintain the desired effects.

With cigarettes, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and enters the bloodstream quickly. It reaches the brain within 10 seconds after the smoke is inhaled. The rapid delivery and absorption of nicotine is one reason cigarettes are so addictive. But smokeless tobacco products or other forms of nicotine, including e-cigarettes, can also lead to addiction. No tobacco product is harmless.

Many factors other than the nicotine itself contribute to nicotine addiction:

  • Other ingredients in tobacco products can enhance or reinforce the effects of nicotine.
  • Learned behaviors and associations also powerfully reinforce and contribute to addiction. For example, the smell and taste of coffee can trigger nicotine craving in people who always smoke while drinking coffee. The ritual of opening a new pack and holding the cigarette reinforces addiction for some people who smoke.

The study of nicotine addiction continues to evolve. Many experts now use the term tobacco addiction because factors other than nicotine can contribute to addiction. Scientists are also beginning to reveal other pathways to addiction. For instance, certain genes or environmental factors may increase a person’s risk of addiction should they ever try tobacco. Also, smoking rates are higher among people with depression or other mental health problems. Scientists want to better understand how they are related.

Aside from its addictive properties, is nicotine in tobacco products harmful?

Health experts do not view nicotine as a major health threat. Although addictive, nicotine itself does not cause cancer. Rather tobacco smoke contains more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals, including tar. Tar causes lung cancer and lung disease. Carbon monoxide—another harmful agent found in tobacco smoke—contributes to lung and heart diseases. Smokeless forms of tobacco also contain many cancer-causing chemicals.

Nicotine does affect the brain and other parts of the body. It can cause your pulse and blood pressure to rise. Nicotine may contribute to the buildup of plaque on arteries, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. And, nicotine exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.

Importantly, when nicotine is used as medicine, it can actually help people addicted to tobacco to give it up.

Are electronic cigarettes harmless?

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery- operated devices that people use to inhale nicotine, flavorings, and other chemicals. Research suggests that e-cigarettes might be less harmful than cigarettes when people who regularly smoke them switch to a complete replacement. E-cigarette use exposes the lungs to many chemicals which may contain known cancer causing agents and toxic chemicals and metals. Nicotine in any form is a highly addictive drug and may prime the brain’s reward system putting people at risk for addiction to other drugs.

Can people overcome nicotine addiction?

Yes! If you want to give up nicotine for good, talk to your doctor. Many strategies are proven to help overcome tobacco addiction. You can do it!

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

www.smokefree.gov

1-800-QUIT-NOW

By Christine P. Martin
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010; Research reports: tobacco addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-addiction and www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/electronic-cigarettes-e-cigarettes; Smokeless tobacco facts, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Why is it so hard to quit? American Heart Association, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/Why-is-it-so-hard-to-quit_UCM_324053_Article.jsp.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

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