Do You Have a Nicotine Addiction?
If you are one of the one billion people who smoke cigarettes worldwide, it’s highly likely that you have a nicotine addiction. Nicotine is the addictive component in tobacco and studies indicate that it produces similar pharmacological effects as cocaine or heroin.
Addiction is defined as the repeated compulsion to continue using a specific substance of performing a certain behaviour or set of behaviours. When the substances or behaviours stop, the addict can experience withdrawal symptoms.
How Do You Know You Have a Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine addiction, also known as nicotine dependence, occurs when you constantly need a nicotine hit and you have negative side effects if you stop using it.
Nicotine causes pleasant changes in your brain. When somebody is addicted to nicotine, they begin to crave the chemical and its positive effects. Over time, somebody who regularly uses nicotine can become dependent on its pleasant effects and experience negative side effects when they try to stop using it.
Addiction to nicotine is physical and mental. It is known to enhance mood by triggering the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, that are responsible for pleasure and reward.
What Are the Symptoms of Nicotine Addiction?
The main symptoms of nicotine addiction are:
- An inability to stop smoking, even after multiple attempts to quit
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit smoking, such as headaches, dizziness, irritability, anger, hunger, insomnia, and anxiety
- Continuing to smoke, regardless of knowing the negative consequences on your health
- Smoking to cope with emotional or psychological stress
- Giving up social activities because you wouldn’t be able to smoke during them (e.g.- not going out for food with your friends because the restaurant doesn’t have a smoking area)
Additional symptoms include:
- Smoking even when you’re sick
- Going outside to smoke even when the weather is freezing cold or raining
The Fagerström Test measures looks at the length of time between waking up and having your first cigarette, which can indicate the severity of your nicotine addiction. If you have your first cigarette within the first five minutes of waking up, your addiction is very strong. If you usually wait an hour or two, it’s less severe.
What Are the Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal?
Of every three smokers, two will have tried and failed to quit smoking at least once in the past. Most of the time, their failures are due to the intense symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Most people experience nicotine withdrawal and strong smoking cravings after just a few days. This causes them to reach for another cigarette and give up on their quit smoking journeys altogether.
Some of the common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include:
- Fatigue and restlessness
- Difficulty staying focused
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased appetite
- Flu-like symptoms
What Triggers a Nicotine Craving?
Nicotine cravings can appear just a few hours after your last cigarette if your addiction is severe. For others, intense cravings might come about several hours or a few days after a cigarette.
Certain situations and factors can worsen nicotine cravings, such as:
- Extra stress
- Feeling particularly anxious or depressed
- Socialising with others who smoke
- Drinking alcohol in a bar or club where you usually smoke
- Drinking coffee (e.g.- if you usually have a cigarette with your morning coffee)
Avoiding these situations as much as possible is vital when you’re trying to overcome your nicotine dependency.
Who is Most Likely to Become Addicted to Nicotine?
For obvious reasons, those who regularly smoke are much more likely to become dependent on nicotine. But nicotine addiction varies amongst smokers depending on when they began smoking.
Studies show that those who began smoking in their teenage years are more likely to become addicted and find it difficult to quit smoking. Almost 9 out of every 10 adults who smoke say that they began smoking before they turned 18 years ago and nearly all of them started smoking cigarettes before the age of 26.
Aside from the age that you began smoking, there are additional factors that influence nicotine addiction and dependency, including:
- Upbringing – if your parents or friends smoke, you are more likely to begin smoking
- Genetics – the likelihood that you will begin smoking and continue smoking may be partly down to your genetics. Certain genes may influence the way that nicotine interacts with the neurotransmitter receptors in your brain
- Mental health – lots of studies show that those who suffer from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are more likely to use smoking as a stress-relieving mechanism
- Substance use – if you use other substances, such as illegal drugs or alcohol, you are more likely to become a regular smoker
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Nicotine Addiction?
Nicotine itself isn’t necessarily harmful to your health but having an addiction to nicotine leads you to smoke more tobacco cigarettes. There is around 7,000 toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke that are known to negatively impact your health and increase your risk of disease and mortality.
Long-term smoking leads to a wide range of complications and increases the risk of:
- Lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchitis – due to the damaging effects of tobacco smoke on the alveoli in your lungs, you are at an increased risk of developing lunch cancer if you smoke. The increased lung inflammation caused by smoking plays a role in the development of lung diseases
- Asthma – smoking can worsen symptoms in those who suffer from asthma
- Other cancers – smoking can increase the risk of a rage of different cancers, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, bladder, and kidney. It may also increase the risk of some forms of leukaemia
- Heart disease and stroke – cardiovascular disease can worsen due to the damaging chemicals in tobacco smoke
- Diabetes – insulin sensitivity may decrease and insulin resistance may increase due to regular smoking
- Eye problems – smoking increases the risk of eye health issues, such as cataracts and macular degeneration
- Gum disease – the gums and mouth can be negatively impacted by smoking. It increases inflammation in the gums and increases the risk of infection
- Infertility – smoking has been shown to increase the risk of fertility in women and men
- Pregnancy complications – pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have a premature birth or have babies with lower birth weights
- Infections – smoking can cause flu-like symptoms because it damages your immune system
- Reduced brain volume – smokers are at an increased risk of age-related loss of brain volume
- Cognitive decline – smoking has been linked to a 30% increased risk of dementia and increased rate of memory loss
What Can You Do if You Have a Nicotine Addiction?
Quitting smoking is tough, especially if you’ve been smoking for a long time. However, you can overcome your nicotine addiction once and for all, even if it takes you several months.
If you’ve tried to quit smoking in the past, you will realise that detoxing from nicotine comes with a lot of physical and mental difficulties. To be successful in quitting, you need to work on changing your physical behaviours and emotional connection to smoking.
Luckily, there are lots of things that you can do to overcome your dependency on nicotine, including taking medications, going to therapy sessions, or using alternative natural remedies.
Here are some top tips to help you overcome your nicotine addiction or cope with nicotine cravings.
- Consider taking nicotine medications, such as nicotine patches, lozenges, gummies, nasal sprays, or inhalers. You may also benefit from antidepressants to increase the dopamine levels in your brain
- Join a support group - whether it’s a virtual or in-person support group, surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same thing can be very motivational. You can learn new coping strategies and techniques
- Participate in regular exercise - moving your body can naturally increase your serotonin and dopamine levels, helping to curb cravings
- Practice mindfulness techniques - meditation and therapy techniques can be useful to reduce your stress levels and promote healthier habits
- Use natural remedies - some natural solutions, such as acupuncture, essential oils, and hypnosis can be beneficial for some people who are trying to quit smoking
- Keep your mouth and hands busy - choose healthy snacks or chewing gum to keep your mouth occupied and squeeze a stress ball to keep your hands busy
- Avoid triggering situations - common triggers for smoking include stress, boredom, alcohol, and social situations. Identify your triggers and try to avoid them as much as possible
- Remember your ‘why’ - constantly remind yourself of the benefits of quitting smoking and overcoming your nicotine dependence
- See a therapist - if you’re struggling to quit smoking by yourself, seeing a therapist might be a good option. They will be able to run through some great techniques that will help you to target the psychology and emotions behind your nicotine dependence. They will also provide support and motivation to keep you going and maximise your chances of success