Can you get addicted to cigars?

Yes, you can get addicted to smoking cigars. Nicotine is absorbed in high enough quatities through the oral and nasal mucosa to become addictive. More on cigar addiction here.

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Yes, cigars can trigger dependence on nicotine and you can experience side effects nicotine withdrawal when you stop smoking them. How is addiction to cigars possible? And what are the signs of cigar addiction. We explore here.

Psychoactive ingredients of cigars

Cigars deliver a wide range of chemicals which can modify behavior. These include nicotine, acetaldehyde, and carbon monoxide … although only nicotine is available in high enough quantities to trigger dependence. Most cigars contain as much nicotine as several cigarettes, although nicotine levels range from the equivalent of a single cigarette to an entire pack of cigarettes.

What does nicotine do in the body?

Cigars provide high levels of nicotine exposure, whether or not you inhale the smoke. When you smoke cigars, nicotine is absorbed through the mucosal membranes and reaches the brain more slowly than cigarettes. But the effect is the same. Each puff is like a “hit” of nicotine to the brain, which creates physical side effects.

Nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands and results in a discharge of epinephrine (adrenaline). This rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Nicotine also promotes the release of the hormone beta-endorphin, which inhibits pain. Finally, nicotine triggers the same reward system as other drugs and can induce feelings of pleasure and, over time, addiction. Some of the effects of nicotine include:

  • enhanced mental performance
  • feelings of pleasure
  • increased alertness
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • inhibited pain sensations
  • restricted blood flow to the heart

Cigars and nicotine delivery

Cigars contain and deliver psychoactive doses of nicotine. Still, cigars vary in the dosing amount and availability of nicotine based on a few variables. But what factors influence the delivery and absorption of nicotine in the body?

1. First, the cigar preparation itself can be engineered to contain more or less nicotine. Tobacco strain, growing conditions, and the pH of nicotine preparations affect the amount of nicotine available from cigars. In fact, the higher the pH of cigar tobacco and cigar smoke, the higher proportion of the nicotine available for absorption via the mouth, nose, and throat.

2. Secondly, the manner in which a person smokes a cigar also affects nicotine delivery. Although inhalation makes nicotine more readily available, nicotine can also be absorbed through the walls of the mouth or lips as you hold cigar smoke in your mouth or taste the tobacco with your lips and tongue.

Factors that influence nicotine delivery include:

  • mode of administration (holding smoke in mouth, inhaling, chewing on tip, etc.)
  • pH of cigar brands
  • tobacco growing condition
  • tobacco strain

Signs of cigar addiction

Addiction to cigars is clinically diagnosed when you become dependent on nicotine. Nicotine dependence is characterized by both tolerance and withdrawal symptoms in relation to nicotine use. The first symptoms of nicotine dependence can appear within days to weeks of the onset of occasional tobacco use, often before the onset of daily smoking. Psychiatrists are trained to diagnose cigar addiction, and use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR)to evaluate the criteria required for diagnosis of nicotine dependence. Cigar smokers must demonstrate at least three of the following criteria occurring at the same time during a 12-month period in order to be diagnosed as nicotine dependent, or addicted to cigars:

1. A great deal of time is spent in obtaining or using cigars (e.g., chain smoking).

2. A persistent desire is present or attempts to cut down on cigars are unsuccessful.

3. Cigar smokers need more nicotine to produce the same desired effect or experience less smoking the same amount of nicotine.

4. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are reduced because of tobacco use.

5. Nicotine is used in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.

6. Smoking cigars continues despite recurrent physical or psychological problems caused by tobacco.

7. Withdrawal symptoms are present when cigars are discontinued or reduced.

People addicted to cigars experience withdrawal symptoms from nicotine when they stop smoking. Withdrawal from nicotine usually diminish within 3-4 weeks, but some symptoms may persist for months after your last cigar. But in addition to physical symptoms of withdrawal, there are also some warning signs that may signal you are BECOMING DEPENDENT on cigars.

Are you addicted to cigars?

If you find that you meet some of the above criteria, it is possible that you have a cigar addiction. Addiction is a medical illness, and can be treated with both medications and psychological help. If you think that you are addicted to cigars and have questions about diagnosis or treatment, please leave your questions here. We will be happy to respond and help you find the help that you need to quit smoking cigars.

Your feedback is welcomed!

Reference sources: Pharmacology and Abuse Potential of Cigars
Research Report Series Tobacco Addiction
NIDA Notes Facts about Nicotine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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