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Tobacco (Nicotine) Addiction: The Most Common Addiction in The World

Nicotine use and abuse is everywhere we look today. Whether it’s people dipping in their cars on the way to work, people puffing clouds of burnt tobacco over their lunch breaks, or even a group of friends celebrating the birth of a child with a few cigars, nicotine permeates daily life.

And despite knowing the myriad of harmful health effects that nicotine abuse brings, an enormous swath of the population still uses nicotine products on an incredibly frequent basis.

But if you are tired of succumbing to this powerful and dangerous addiction, there’s no better time to quit than today.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about this prolific and health-destroying drug – and more importantly, how to cut it out of your life forever.

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Nicotine Addiction: The Most Common Substance Use Disorder Today

A tobacco use disorder is undoubtedly the most common substance use disorder in the United States today. The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry reports that about 60 to 80% of current smokers fulfill the classic criteria for drug dependence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means a whopping 21.9 million to 29.2 million U.S. adults are addicted to tobacco. To make matters even worse though, tobacco use and abuse is especially problematic for nearly every aspect of an individual’s health as well.

In fact, the CDC reports that cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year. Beyond that, smokers aren’t just harming themselves either. Secondhand smoke actually causes about 41,000 deaths a year as well.

In the end, the economic burden of smokers alone is over $300 billion a year including $170 billion in medical care costs and $156 billion in productivity loss.

And when you bring in smokeless tobacco product users (3.4% of the population) and e-cigarette users (3.2% of the population), it’s abundantly clear that nicotine is the most abused substance in society today.

A common refrain among smoking enthusiasts is that it’s not the nicotine in cigarettes that ends up killing you, it’s the tar and other dangerous chemicals. And it’s true, the most toxic chemicals in cigarettes are often the additives found in cigarettes and not the nicotine itself.

However, just because something in cigarettes is more hazardous to your health than the nicotine doesn’t actually mean that nicotine gets off scot-free.

For instance, a 2015 report from the CDC outlined the fact that nicotine exposure during fetal and adolescent stages can bring with it a host of detrimental health effects including:

  • Impaired lung development
  • Stunted brain growth
  • Altered development of the cerebral cortex
  • Distorted growth of the hippocampus

While these effects are focused primarily on the developmental stages, there is one very real danger that nicotine can bring to every single age – the risk of developing the disease of addiction.

The most hazardous aspect of nicotine is unquestionably the fact that becoming addicted to this substance will likely lead to cigarette, chewable tobacco, and e-cigarette use, each of which contain a number of dangerous chemicals.

And the more addicted you are to nicotine, the likelier you’ll be to push those health warnings out of your mind in favor of another hit.

Like most other substance addictions, one of the best ways to combat continued use is through education. And given the enormous number of terrifying chemicals in tobacco products today, just knowing what you’re bringing into your body with each puff may set you on the path towards recovery.

Below is a comprehensive list of just some the various chemicals found in cigarettes today.

  • Acetone – found in nail polish remover
  • Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye
  • Ammonia – a common household cleaner
  • Arsenic – used in rat poison
  • Benzene – found in rubber cement
  • Butane – used in lighter fluid
  • Cadmium – active component in battery acid
  • Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
  • Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
  • Lead – used in batteries
  • Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
  • Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel
  • Tar – material for paving roads
  • Toluene – used to manufacture paint 

The ingredients in smokeless tobacco are a bit more wholesome in appearance and, according to the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, include:

  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
  • Sweeteners
  • Abrasives – gritty materials that wear down the surfaces of teeth
  • Salt – which can contribute to high blood pressure and kidney disease
  • Carcinogens – cancer causing chemicals
  • Polonium 210 – a nuclear waste
  • Arsenic – a metallic element that can form poisonous compounds

E-cigarettes, while cutting out an enormous chunk of the above chemicals, still aren’t quite 100% safe either. Their liquid components usually contain a combination of pure nicotine, a propylene glycol base, as well as other flavorings, colorings and various chemicals.

Is Nicotine in Vape Bad?

While you’ll notice the list of ingredients in e-cigarettes is far shorter for these nicotine delivery devices compared to the alternatives, vaping isn’t necessarily as health-friendly as many people believe.

Tobacco Addiction

The Surgeon General reports that while these products are still in the initial stages of regulation, the problem with e-cigarettes is how difficult it is to know what additives are in which products.

“E-cigarettes,” the Surgeon General states, “can contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients, including:

  • Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs
  • Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.”

Moreover, e-cigarettes are also particularly dangerous due to the fact that many former cigarette users have switched over to vaping devices due to the false impression that they’re entirely healthy.

What Does Tar Do to Your Body?

One of the most hazardous components of tobacco products today is tar. This sticky brown substance is one of the main contributors to lung and throat cancer in smokers.

Tar isn’t actually found inside a cigarette. Rather, tar is more or less created after the organic and inorganic components of a cigarette are heated up during the smoking process.

Some of this tar is exhaled as you breathe the smoke out. But a fair amount is actually retained inside the lungs. When you suck in the smoke, this tar coats the vital cells inside your lungs and can eventually cause some very serious problems.

Specifically, this tar paralyses or destroys the essential cilia found in the lungs – specialized hair-like structures that help prevent infection. When these cells become destroyed, they open up a vulnerability that lets this tar penetrate even further into your lungs.

Not only does more and more tar in the lungs open you up to further infections from other respiratory diseases (like chronic bronchitis or “smoker’s lung”), it also ends up causing direct damage to these vital organs.

While the intensity of addictiveness is difficult to quantify scientifically, one method of getting a handle on the severity of nicotine cravings is through personal accounts.

One New York Times article, for instance, found that 45% of heavy cocaine users said the urge to smoke was as strong or stronger than their urge for cocaine. Only 3% of heroin users ranked it as strong as cravings for heroin. And with alcoholics, 50% reported that their urge for a smoke was equal to their urge for a drink.

However, separate studies have found that a tobacco addiction has just as strong of a pull as an addiction to heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and alcohol.

What’s more, NIDA reports that of the 35 million smokers that want to quit each year, more than 85% of them end up relapsing, most within a week.

In the end, comparing the addictiveness of tobacco to other substances can be problematic but suffice to say, it is undoubtedly one of the most addictive drugs on the market today.

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Am I Addicted? Tobacco Addiction Symptoms

Spotting the signs of addiction in others is one thing. You’ve probably smelled the smoke, heard the stories of how they’re going to finally quite for good, or even seen them spend hundreds on pack after pack every week.

But addiction is a complex and all-encompassing disease. It can influence nearly every aspect of a person’s being, from emotions and intellect down to behaviors and ethics.

As such, it can be exceedingly difficult to identify a substance use disorder in yourself. That’s why if you have any indication that you may be struggling with a tobacco addiction, then you need to take a step back and start looking at your actions objectively.

Did you really have a cigarette because you were celebrating? Or were you just looking for something to celebrate so you could have a cigarette? 

This is where self-assessments come in. These tests help you take stock of your behaviors from a distance and determine if you do in fact have a problem.

A short online quiz is often all it takes to see if you should start reevaluating your cigarette use.

You can also take advantage of the range of self-assessment tests provided by NIDA as well as the guidelines provided by the DSM-V which are used by actual medical physicians.

But most importantly, facing your addiction head-on takes one heck of a lot of honesty. And though it’s tough, acknowledging your behaviors for what they really are can end up saving your life.

How Does Nicotine Affect the Body: Short-Term Effects of Tobacco

There are number of immediate effects caused by smoking and other tobacco products. On the one hand, nicotine is quite readily absorbed into the bloodstream, causing a relatively rapid rush of adrenaline for the user, resulting in a blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate increase.

However, there are a variety of other short-term effects of smoking. These (as provided by the Center for Substance Abuse Research) include:

  • Damage to the respiratory system
  • Decreased lung capacity
  • Chronic cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Bad breath; bad taste in mouth
  • Smelly hair and clothes
  • Yellow or brown stains on teeth
  • Increased likelihood of drug use and risky behavior
  • Death from fire (the #1 cause of death from fire is smoking)

What’s more, chewing tobacco also has a variety of nasty short-term effects as well including:

  • Receding gums
  • Permanent gum loss
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Tooth decay
  • Sores, patches, and lumps in mouth

How Does Nicotine Affect the Body: Long-Term Effects of Tobacco

Long-term tobacco use is associated with numerous health problems and is actually the leading cause of preventable death all over the world. In fact, tobacco use is the direct cause for nearly 6 million worldwide deaths per year.

And when you see all the detrimental long-term health effects of tobacco use, it’s no wonder why it causes so many deaths. Smoking increases the risk of developing:

  • Hypertension
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Heart attacks
  • Weakened pumping of the heart
  • Narrowed arteries
  • Weakened blood flow
  • Stroke
  • Lung cancer
  • Upper respiratory tract cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Enlarged mucous glands
  • Excess phlegm
  • Emphysema
  • Reproductive damage
  • Impotence
  • Early menopause
  • Miscarriages
  • Stillbirth
  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Prematurely wrinkled skin
  • Gum and tooth loss
  • Lost or weakened sense of taste and smell
  • Weakened immune system
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Unwanted weight fluctuation

It’s worth mentioning again that although there isn’t much data on e-cigarettes due them being relatively new products on the market, there may be a lot of side effects of using these substances that we have yet to discover.

After all, cigarettes themselves were deemed safe and were even endorsed by doctors at one point in our nation’s history.

Tobacco Withdrawal Symptoms

If there’s one thing that everyone’s heard about dumping your tobacco addiction it’s that quitting can be a real pain.

The symptoms of withdrawal for nicotine are extensive to be sure. In fact, many people think that quitting smoking is one of the most difficult things they’ve ever done.

Mental Health Daily put together a pretty comprehensive list of the many different side effects of tobacco detox that users have reported. It includes:

  • Anxiety
  • Chest tightness
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat
  • Sweating
  • Time perception changes
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain
  • Tingling in hands/feet
  • Tension
  • Stomach pain
  • Restlessness
  • Loneliness
  • Insomnia
  • Heart rate changes
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings
  • Concentration problems
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Anger

The length of time for tobacco withdrawals depends entirely on the individual as well as the extent of their addiction. Some people may feel like they’ve returned to normal after a short period of time.

Others may feel out of sorts for months at a time.

In general, though, you can expect to feel the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal for several weeks. In fact, nicotine can stay in your system for up to an entire week after your last cigarette or dip.

The psychological ones, on the other hand, can end up lasting for months or even years – part of why quitting for good is so hard for many people.

4 Tips for Going Cold Turkey

While completely eliminating your tobacco use all at once doesn’t carry with it the same dangers as with, say, alcohol or benzodiazepines, going cold turkey with tobacco products can be quite a painful experience.

What’s more, when your addiction has spanned decades of using nicotine products multiple times a day (as many people’s does), abstaining once and for all without any assistance may be a monumental task.

But as difficult as it may sound, people do it every day. What’s more, some experts insist that cold turkey may actually be the most successful method for quitting for good in the long-term.

Here are 4 of 13 tips from WebMD to help you make going cold turkey even easier and much more successful.

  1. Find Your Reason – Motivation is key here. Find the driving force behind your decision to quit and think about it every time you have an urge to light up.
  2. Prepare Yourself Beforehand – Do your research. Ask friends to help keep you honest. Give your doctor a call and see what are some of the best methods for keeping clean.
  3. Build A Support System – It takes a village when it comes to tackling addiction and a support system made of friends and family will help more than you know.
  4. Avoid Alcohol & Other Triggers – Knowing yourself is a big part of overcoming a nicotine addiction. Stay away from situations that might trigger cravings or lead to you losing control.

Drugs to Help Ease Nicotine Detox

Similar to how Medication-Assisted Treatments (MATs) can help reduce the cravings, eliminate withdrawals, and take away the incentives for using opioids again, there are also a number of medications that can be used to make quitting tobacco significantly easier for you.

Some of the most common and trusted of these include:

Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking any of these medications as some may be dangerous when not used appropriately.

Tobacco Addiction: Commonplace Yet Deadly

If you or someone you know is struggling with a tobacco addiction and need a little help quitting for good, an expert and qualified addiction center may be just the ticket to kicking the habit.

An addiction center will have the in-depth knowledge and expertise required to help make your withdrawals from tobacco much more manageable. And more importantly, it’ll help ensure that when you do give up tobacco, you’ll stay off of it for good.

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