Nicotine addiction is a primary cause of preventable death in the United States. The Center for Disease control estimates that nearly 480,000 premature deaths can be attributed to tobacco abuse in the US every year.
This is roughly 1 out of 5 deaths – but it doesn’t stop there. For every fatality, there are 30 people battling at least one serious medical condition that is related to tobacco.
Simple math tells us that there are currently nearly 15 million people in the US alone that are sick and 500,000 of them will die by the end of this year. This is a devastating piece of information.
Tobacco is addictive largely due to one of its active substances – nicotine. Nicotine is a parasympathomimetic substance that is found in cultivated tobacco plants (Nicotiana tabacum) and is as addictive as cocaine and other illegal substances. The only difference here is that nicotine is not illegal.
Harmful Effects of Nicotine
Addictive substances are not addictive because they taste or smell good: they are addictive because they fundamentally change our brain chemistry. Nicotine addiction is no different and its properties include:
- Psychoactive effects
- Compulsive use
- Quick relapse
- Drug-reinforced behavior
- Physical dependence
Nicotine can act as both as a stimulant and a sedative, depending on the quantity you ingest. Typically, cigarettes contain anywhere from 8 to 20 mg of nicotine – average being 14 mg. A steady smoker smokes at least a pack of cigarettes a day, so 20 cigarettes equal 280 mg. While only a fraction of that gets inhaled (around 20 mg per pack – the rest dissipates in smoke) it’s important to note that 30 -60 mg of nicotine in its liquid form is lethal for an adult. Around 10 mg is lethal to small children and even less than that to babies. In comparison, a lethal dose of cyanide for an adult is 1.5 mg per 2 pounds of weight.
Nicotine Side Effects on Your Brain
Cigarettes are one of the fastest ways to get nicotine into your system. After an inhale, tar with nicotine deposits travels to lungs where it latches on and gets absorbed by the organism. It takes up to twenty seconds for nicotine to travel to the brain. Other delivery methods, such as chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarette systems are slower, but not by much.
When nicotine reaches the brain it attaches to neural receptors usually reserved for acetylcholine. This begins a series of chain reactions in the body. First, it starts to stimulate the adrenal glands which start releasing large amounts of adrenaline into the system. This ‘flight or fight’ hormone elevates the heart rate and breathing. As the heart rate goes up so does the blood pressure and this means that nicotine is also partly to blame for numerous vascular diseases.
That rush of adrenaline also signals the body to dump sugars into the system –under normal circumstances that sugar would be useful for either the fight or the flight response. In this case, it stays in the bloodstream, accumulating and since nicotine suppresses insulin release this means that smokers regularly have elevated blood sugar levels. High blood sugar is one of the reasons why smokers tend not to feel hungry after a cigarette, regardless of how long it was since their last meal.
Nicotine is also responsible for dopamine floods that occur after smoking or chewing tobacco. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain and smoking there for gives smokers the same sensation you would get when eating something you really like or making love. This is where the craving part of the addiction comes into play. As nicotine-caused dopamine levels begin to stabilize, smokers get an overwhelming urge for another cigarette – essentially, another hit of nicotine. And that is how this vicious circle transforms into a snake biting its own tail.
Nicotine Side Effects on All Systems in the Body
Nicotine has adverse effects on every bodily system. Some of these develop over time but some are present with every dose of nicotine you take.
Nicotine Effects: Central Nervous System
- Abnormal sleep disturbances
- Blood-flow risk
Nicotine Effects: Cardiovascular System
- Aortic enlargement and dissection
- Increased clotting
- Heart rate fluctuation
- Increased blood pressure
- Coronary artery disease
Nicotine Effects: Respiratory System
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Nicotine Effects: Muscular System
- Spinal disc degeneration
- Joint pain
Nicotine Effects: Gastrointestinal System
- Peptic ulcer
- Dry mouth
Mentioned health effects can all be attributed to nicotine but are greatly exacerbated by other compounds usually found in tobacco products, such as tar, carbon monoxide, toluene, or any of the other 4,000 substances regularly found in cigarettes.
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Nicotine causes physical addiction which is one of the reasons why it’s hard to kick the habit, even though you might want to. Your body will easily get accustomed to elevated sugar levels and regular dopamine that comes with smoking a cigarette and will start showing serious withdrawal symptoms during cessation attempts.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased craving for food
- Concentration issues
- Memory issues
- Nicotine cravings
Other symptoms may appear and vary from person to person. They are usually combated with nicotine-replacement therapy but will eventually resolve on their own, even without the said therapy.
Nicotine is the most silent killer of all. Tobacco claims more lives in one year than HIV, car accidents, and gun-related deaths combined. The addiction builds up gradually but becomes a lifestyle that is difficult to shake. It’s baffling to think that humans willingly ingest a compound that was naturally developed by a plant in order to fend off bugs and other predators that wanted to feast on it – in essence, nicotine is a byproduct of tobacco’s natural defense system and it’s there to make the plant less palatable by inducing gastrointestinal problems and vomiting. Even during early tobacco-smoking days nicotine was still used as a pesticide across the globe.
Think long and hard before lighting your first cigarette because it’s a hard habit to kick and may eventually lead to numerous diseases and even death. If you’re already a smoker, inform yourself about cessation methods and supplements you can use to fight that addiction.
People also ask
Nicotine interferes with neuro-receptors in the brain causing them to release dopamine and adrenaline into the system. Dopamine is associated with feelings of happiness and ecstasy and, after a while, smokers crave dopamine release that is associated with smoking tobacco and with nicotine.
Tobacco contains a psychoactive substance called nicotine, which is highly addictive as it alters the brain chemistry of a smoker. Smokers become dependent on various changes in the body that are triggered by nicotine thus becoming addicted to the only source of that drug that’s readily available –tobacco.
Nicotine cravings usually peak 2-3 days into the cessation effort – heavy smokers may experience a strong urge to smoke even sooner. Nicotine stays in the system for up to three days but drinking large amounts of water will help you expel it sooner than that.
Apart from physical dependence on nicotine, smokers find it hard to give up cigarettes smoking because it is a habit associated with their daily routine. Also, smokers find smoking relaxing and use it to combat anxiety, depression, and other unpleasant feelings. Nicotine in cigarettes is also associated with high blood sugar levels that smokers are accustomed to.
Nicotine addiction symptoms are best viewed during the withdrawal phase. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include bouts of anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating, weight gain and increased appetite due to lower blood sugar levels, trouble sleeping, irritability, impaired performance, impatience, intense nicotine cravings, and more.
There is a number of ways to treat nicotine addiction. The most important consideration is determination and willpower of the smoker. Smokers who can’t quit without assistance should consider nicotine replacement therapy, medications, counseling, behavioral therapy, or a combination of all those approaches.