Nicotine Addiction and Abuse

Nicotine is an addictive stimulant that causes physical and psychological dependence than can be harder to recover from compared to other highly addictive drugs.

Nicotine addiction | Table of Contents

Understanding Nicotine

Nicotine is a powerful alkaloid that is widely used in tobacco products while also being a naturally occurring substance in tomatoes, potatoes, aubergine, and green peppers in low quantities. It is a central nervous system stimulant that is deemed even more addictive than alcohol and just as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or amphetamines.

About 50 million Americans are addicted to some form of tobacco product, including cigarettes, snuff, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Although nicotine is highly toxic in its pure form, the amount generally inhaled during smoking is considered too small to cause immediate fatal consequences.

Nicotine addiction is the most prevalent substance addiction in the US. Conservative estimates place the financial costs (health care and reduced productivity) associated with nicotine use in the US at around $193 billion per year.


How bad is a nicotine addiction?

Nicotine can lead to a life long smoking addiction. It exposes you to toxic chemicals in tobacco that can cause cancer and harm almost every organ of the body.

Is nicotine addiction permanent?

When a person stops smoking, the number of nicotine receptors in the brain goes back to normal. This results in lesser and lesser craving responses, and cravings won’t be as intense.

Why do people use nicotine?

Nicotine can enhance concentration, increase attention span, prevents fatigue, enhance mood, and increase physical performance.

Nicotine Effects, Abuse, and Addiction

Nicotine abuse is somewhat unique as the drug’s intoxicating effects are less powerful than most other addictive substances. Although nicotine is categorized as a stimulant, it does not generate high levels of energy and euphoria compared to drugs such as cocaine, but it does, however, stimulate adrenal glands that cause a rise in blood pressure and respiration, causing pleasant elevation of mood and cognition. Nicotine is a fast-acting substance that generally activates within 10 seconds of being smoked and weans off in a matter of hours.

Nicotine is mostly abused in the form of tobacco due to cultural perception and social acceptance. Almost everyone who smokes tobacco admits that they never intended to form an addiction to it. However, since addiction modifies the brain’s biochemical structure, it becomes difficult to quit the habit the earlier someone starts using it.

“Of those who smoke, 90 percent started by the age of 18.”

– A Surgeon General’s Report in 2012

Young adults are particularly vulnerable to addiction as highly addictive drugs such as nicotine stimulate the still-developing brain reward system that plays a massive role in the production of memories and addictive behaviors. Individuals addicted to tobacco products experience strong physical and psychological cravings due to the memories associated with it. Nicotine addiction also includes a behavioral addiction, which is why many doctors suggest patients hold a straw or lollipop in between the fingers right after they quit smoking.

”Heroin addicts say it is easier to give up dope than it is to give up smoking,” 

-Dr. Sharon Hall, University of California’s San Francisco.


Does nicotine addiction cause depression?

Changes in depression within individuals are associated with nicotine dependence. Depression remains a prominent risk factor for nicotine dependence and addiction.

Is nicotine a psychological or physical addiction?

Addiction to nicotine involves the formation of both physical and psychological dependence, which makes quitting more challenging.

Can nicotine kill bacteria?

According to research done in Florida, small levels of nicotine can kill the tuberculosis bacterium.

What are the long term effects of nicotine?

Nicotine increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and brain damage. It can also cause cancer, osteoporosis, eye cataracts, and chronic bronchitis.

The Risks of Tobacco

Due to the vast number of studies and research conducted by the scientific community, the dangers of tobacco use are now well known and acknowledged. The link between tobacco and adverse health effects was initially brought to light in the 1950s and 1960s, although the findings were highly disputed at the time. However, tobacco-related deaths each year still remains higher than all the deaths from illicit drugs, alcohol, car accidents, and murders combined.

Some of the health impairments caused by tobacco use are:

  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Mouth and esophageal cancer
  • Stroke
  • Infertility


Does nicotine kill brain cells?

Nicotine can kill brain cells and stop new ones from forming in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory.

Does nicotine rewire your brain?

Nicotine in cigarettes can rewire your brain, leading to withdrawal symptoms once dependence is formed.

Recognizing Nicotine Addiction

Identifying nicotine addiction is difficult due to social and cultural acceptance of consuming products infused with nicotine. Addiction can take hold in anyone; hence, recognizing the symptoms of a physical and psychological dependence on nicotine is crucial.

Some of the more common signs of nicotine addiction are:

  • Irritability when not consuming tobacco.
  • Intense urges and cravings to use tobacco.
  • Using tobacco in higher quantities than initially intended.
  • Having a desire to stop or lower tobacco usage but unable to do so.
  • Requiring more and more tobacco to feel the desired pleasure.

The physical symptoms of nicotine addiction occur as a result of withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal transpires when the addicted brain can no longer naturally produce sufficient levels of chemicals such as dopamine. Due to its fast-acting nature, withdrawal symptoms emerge in as little as two hours since the last tobacco use and peak within 2-3 days of quitting.

Some of the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Trouble concentrating

The culmination of pleasurable memories associated with tobacco use over time can generate cravings for tobacco. These triggers are caused by the formation of psychological dependence over prolonged use. Triggers may consist of everyday activities such as driving, listening to music, or even stress at work or home.


How long does one puff of a cigarette stay in your system?

The half-life of nicotine is 2 hours. Nicotine metabolizes fast into cotinine, and cotinine contains a half-life of 15 hours.

How many cigarettes a day is heavy smoking?

Greater than or equal to 25 cigarettes a day is considered heavy smoking.

Is nicotine an immunosuppressant?

Nicotine can exert its immunosuppressive effects on immune surveillance through functional impairment of the DC system.

Nicotine and Other Drugs

Nicotine use is one of the most common co used substance among polydrug abuse patients. Individuals generally use nicotine to help heighten the effects of other substances such as cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. As nicotine is considered a gateway drug, tobacco users generally are at a higher risk of polydrug abuse.

Alcohol is the most common substance to be abused along with nicotine Combining alcohol with nicotine can pose an obstacle to overcoming nicotine abuse. Those who are used to smoking cigarettes while drinking develops a mental connection between the two, making it difficult to quit tobacco use while continuing to drink.

Fewer Teens Are Picking Up Tobacco

Teens who are thoroughly informed about the health risks associated with tobacco are less likely to consume it. This has been proven to be correct as fewer and fewer teens consume tobacco products as they are made aware of the health risks and dangers associated with it. This is credited to the effective campaign against smoking among kids and young adults.

Individuals between the ages of 12 to 17 showed some of the lowest smoking rates compared to other demographics. The rates have dropped by over 5 percent since 2002. However, the smoking rates in individuals between 18 to 25 years of age still remain high.

Nicotine Abuse Statistics

  • 14 Years Less: Smokers live an average of 14 years lesser than nonsmokers.
  • 500 K Deaths: About half a million Americans die each year due to tobacco use.
  • 12-23 Times Higher: Women who smoke tobacco increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 13 times, while men who use tobacco increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 23 times.

Making the Decision to Quit

The health risks related to tobacco use are significantly severe unless an individual decides to quit. Choosing to quit tobacco is the first and most important step towards recovery.

Some of the other health benefits of quitting tobacco are:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure drop to the levels of a nonsmoker only within 2 hours of quitting tobacco.
  • Two years of not smoking can significantly decrease the risk of stroke, similar to that of a nonsmoker.
  • The risk of heart disease goes down by 50 percent after a year of quitting tobacco
  • The risk of lung cancer reduces considerably after quitting tobacco use

It is very common among nicotine users to relapse during recovery. However, It is vital not to be discouraged.


How long does it take to get rid of a nicotine addiction?

Nicotine is flushed out from the body72 hours after a person quits smoking. However, it will take around three months for your brain chemistry to go back to normal after quitting nicotine.

The First Steps to Nicotine Addiction Recovery

There are many resources currently available to help individuals quit nicotine use. However, it is vital to educate oneself on what to anticipate while quitting tobacco. Individuals seeking recovery will benefit from being aware of the effects of nicotine addiction and possible withdrawal symptoms so they could prepare themselves for what’s to come.

Given below are some helpful tips to guide one through recovery:

  • Set a Quit Date: Many people find setting a quit date very helpful, as it gives them adequate time to prepare themselves physically and emotionally. Some may even utilize this time to gradually cut back on their nicotine consumption.
  • Know Your Triggers: People can still crave for nicotine years after quitting its use. The memories associated with nicotine use can trigger cravings, so reducing or avoiding such triggers can make quitting a lot easier. Individuals must also learn healthy coping skills for unavoidable triggers in life.
  • Get Support: As odd as it may sound, telling people that you are quitting can make it easier to quit. Having people who hold you accountable for your actions gives you a higher chance of success.

Many individuals find it difficult to quit on their own. As a matter of fact, 95 percent of those who relapse are individuals who tried to do it on their own. It is vital to surround yourself with those who support your recovery. These support groups may include friends, family, or even your therapist. Participating in therapy and recovery programs may also highly benefit you during recovery. It is quite easier to quit when you are surrounded by people aiming for the same goals as you.


How do I get rid of nicotine addiction?

As with any addiction, nicotine addiction takes time to get over. Talk to your physician about the options available for you and what’s to be expected during withdrawals. Once you decide on a quit date, prepare yourself by removing all forms of triggers in your life, and seek support from friends and family. Quit smoking one day at a time and not focus on quitting forever, as this may be overwhelming.

Can quitting smoking change your personality?

There is evidence based on a study that shows people who quit smoking display improvements in their overall personality.

What is the fastest way to detox from nicotine?

Detox occurs when your body eliminates a substance through the excretion of urine and solid waste. The fastest way to detox from nicotine is by drinking lots of water, exercising, through infrared sauna therapy, or by taking natural detox supplements.

What can I replace smoking with?

Nicotine replacement therapy is an ideal option to help alleviate nicotine withdrawal and increase your chances of quitting. There are also numerous simple ways to replace the habit of reaching for a cigarette, such as chewing gum, drinking a glass of water, sucking on a piece of hard candy, eating a popsicle, or frozen fruit.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy is the alternative to quitting tobacco cold-turkey. Many people replace their nicotine use with lozenges, inhalers, patches, gum, or with medications such as Chantix and Wellbutrin to help reduce cravings or urges to use nicotine. The prominent advantage of nicotine replacement therapy is that it allows recovering individuals to focus on their psychological addiction before completely removing nicotine from their bodies.

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