Is Nicotine Addictive?
Nicotine administration, via any route, can produce psychoactive effects, mood alterations, positive reinforcement, and eventually addiction. However, tobacco smoke inhalation is the fastest and the most efficient method of nicotine delivery to the brain. In less than 10 seconds after inhalation, about 25% of the nicotine reaches the brain – a rate that is almost twice as fast as intravenous delivery. Nicotine’s chemical structure enables it to produce the same type of addictive effects as heroin and cocaine.
But, what is nicotine addiction and what does it feel like? In this article we explore more about the nature of nicotine addiction, it’s signs and symptoms, and effective treatment methods. At the end, we welcome you to send us your questions and feedback. We do our best to provide personal and prompt response to all legitimate inquiries.
What Is Nicotine Addiction…Really?
Addiction is a brain disease. It is characterized by compulsive seeking and use of nicotine, even when faced with negative health consequences.
So, if you feel like nicotine has got a hold of you…you are probably right!
But, luckily, you are not alone.
It is well documented that most smokers identify tobacco and nicotine products as harmful and express a desire to reduce or stop use. Nearly 35 million people ‘hooked’ on nicotine want to quit each year. Unfortunately, more than 85% of those who try to quit on their own relapse, most within a week of stopping use.
How Nicotine Addiction Is Formed
Nicotine is quick to produce its effects. As it starts to affect the body within seconds, the heart rate increases, levels of noradrenaline increase, and your mood and concentration are enhanced. Nicotine also triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical said to be a major part of the addiction process. The release of this feel-good chemical causes subsequent activation of the pleasure center in the brain, positive reinforcement, arousal and enhanced cognitive functioning.
So, just like other people addicted to substances, people “hooked” on nicotine crave the dopamine rush it causes in the brain. After its effects wear off, the hormone levels drop, leaving you anxious, irritable and with strong desire for another nicotine boost. The more you repeat the action, the deeper ingrained the habit becomes.
Signs Of a Problem
The pharmacological and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to other psychoactive drugs. Answer these questions honestly to determine whether or not you show signs of addiction to tobacco or nicotine products:
1. Do you light your first cigarette within 5-10 minutes after waking up?
2. If use is stopped or cut back do you feel nicotine withdrawal symptoms?
3. Do you smoke more than 7 cigarettes a day?
4. Do you continue smoke/abuse nicotine products despite being aware of health risks?
5. Would you still use nicotine regardless of the circumstances and conditions (when sick, at social gatherings, when it’s raining or freezing)?
6. Have you tried to quit nicotine use and failed to succeed?
7. Do you lose control over how much nicotine and tobacco you use?
Do you find your answer to 2 or more of these questions to be Yes? It may be time to seek professional help. You can start by discussing your nicotine use problem with your primary doctor, or ask for a referral to a licensed drug counselor, or a psychologist. If you are uncomfortable talking about your nicotine habit with these medical professionals, there are other ways to get credentialed and trusted answers to your questions about nicotine addiction and treatment options.
Our Confidential and Anonymous Helpline is open 24/7.
Anytime: Day or Night!
Millions of people get nicotine addiction help every year!
You too can take back control over your life!
What’s It Like to Be Addicted?
The best way to learn what nicotine addiction feels like is through the testimonials of people who have walked in the same shoes. Here are a few stories that nicotine addicted individuals have shared:
TESTIMONIAL #1 “I don’t experience anything physical, but if I go without any for a while I just want one REALLY badly. It is insane how strong the urge gets, I do my best to ignore it, and I don’t get aggressive, but damn is it annoying to have the thought ‘God dammit I want a cigarette’ being stuck in your head and you hear it over and over and over until you get one.”
TESTIMONIAL #2 “It’s like snakes in your brain. They rattle, writhe, and bite when you don’t have enough nicotine. Get some and they go to sleep. Take away the nicotine for long enough time and after an initial frenzy they fall into a coma. But, just a little taste of nicotine will wake them up again, and they will be hungry when they wake up.”
TESTIMONIAL #3 “You know how when you break up with someone and you need to live your life without them. But, you can’t imagine your life without them, your life has included them for so long and you find yourself thinking ‘WHAT DO I DO NOW?!’ and bursting into tears? That’s what it feels like every 20-30 minutes. Until you get some nicotine in your system again.”
The highest success rates at quitting nicotine and tobacco have been reported by people who pursue professional medical treatment. Psychological therapy or medications can be helpful, but a combination of both has been proven to be the most successful method for long-term success. Here are some of the effective treatment options you can explore:
1. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) uses products such as, nicotine chewing gum, nicotine transdermal patches, nasal sprays, inhalers, and lozenges that release nicotine into the bloodstream at lower doses than one would obtain from tobacco. This steady supply can help alleviate the cravings that occur when giving up smoking.
2. Nicotine-Assisted Reduction (NAR) means you progressively reduce the daily consumption of nicotine products for a period of time before you completely stop all use and detox from nicotine traces in your body. Doctors usually recommend a total cessation within six months of starting nicotine-assisted reduction. During this treatment, doctors may also prescribe NRT medications.
3. Non-nicotine medications are also used for the treatment of nicotine addiction. They include:
- Varenicline (Chantix/Champix) to help you manage withdrawal symptoms
- Clonidine (Catapres) is used in cases when other therapies have not worked
- Antidepressants like Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban)
Plus, there is a nicotine vaccine under development.
4. Behavioral counseling sessions, support groups and programs for cessation of nicotine use help people remain nicotine-free. Doctors suggest a mix of behavioral and NRT therapy for best results. There are also other options for counseling and support, some of which include:
- Telephone counseling: You can call the National Cancer Institute’s 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) and the American Cancer Society’s Quitline at 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345).
- Counseling sessions with a tobacco treatment specialist: These services may be available in hospitals, through health care plans, and health care providers. Call us on the hotline listed on this page for an initial assessment of your nicotine dependence level as well as to get info on available treatment options that fit your specific needs.
- Websites like Nicotine Anonymous: These online options offer support and encouragement for people who are trying to give up nicotine use.
Got Any Questions?
You can ask questions regarding nicotine addiction, or post your personal experiences in the comments section below. The Addiction Blog team is working to provide personal and prompt answers to all legitimate inquiries.