By now, most people know that tobacco can be catastrophic for human health. Each day, commercials detailing the dangers of smoking and using snuff blare from television screens, and gigantic billboards scattered along the highway show detailed photographs of the skin and lungs of people who have nurtured an addiction for many years. There’s a reason for all of this public hype: Tobacco products really are dangerous. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, for example, tobacco contains more than 19 chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Unfortunately, people who abuse tobacco can develop an underlying addiction to nicotine, and kicking the habit without help can be difficult. Some people might not even want to stop using, as they believe the habit helps them achieve specific goals regarding weight and mental health. This article will outline how an addiction develops, and why people might overlook the risks of an addiction when they choose to use tobacco. Hopefully, this information will help addicted people learn more about why they should quit and how they can get started.
Altering Brain Chemistry
A slender cigarette can look like a mere fashion accessory, but in reality, it’s specifically designed to deliver a big punch of nicotine to the brain of the smoker. According to a review of the research, published in Psychology Today, a smoker takes about 10 puffs of a lit cigarette in a five-minute period, and within 10 seconds of each puff, the nicotine attaches to specific receptors in the brain and begins to trigger a series of chemical changes. People who smoke pipes or use snuff can also be overwhelmed by chemical changes caused by nicotine, although the drug is absorbed through the mucosal membranes of these users. No matter the delivery system, many of the chemical changes nicotine can cause take place in the reward system of the brain.
The brain is primed to recognize situations that are somehow rewarding, and when those circumstances arise, the brain emits the chemical dopamine that can boost feelings of pleasure. The idea is to prime the body to seek out those situations again, with the chemical signals working as a lure. Addictive drugs hijack this system, causing the brain to emit pleasure signals when there is no rewarding event taking place. This reward pathway is utilized by notoriously addictive drugs, including:
Nicotine also causes disruptions in dopamine levels, and that might be why it’s so difficult to quit using. The brain is primed to find tobacco rewarding, due to the presence of nicotine, and the brain tells the body to obtain the substance by any means necessary. When people are under stress, upset or simply worried, the brain may call out for nicotine as a solution. These cravings can be incredibly difficult to ignore, and they could lead people to reach back for tobacco, even when they’ve vowed to quit mere moments before. It’s not clear how many tobacco products a person might need to use before a nicotine addiction can set in, but it is clear that these chemical changes take place in almost all people who abuse tobacco, and it’s also clear that these changes can cause enormous distress. People might believe that they’re only “normal” while they’re under the influence of nicotine, and they might feel hijacked by their cravings and unable to resist.
Increasing Weight Loss
While some people become addicted to nicotine because of the way the drug makes them feel on an emotional level, others become addicted to the weight-related side effects nicotine can bring about. In an in-depth study of the impact of nicotine, highlighted by NPR, researchers determined that nicotine attaches to receptors that are connected to the body’s fight-or-flight response. In essence, nicotine fools the body into believing that it is under threat and a quick dash to safety might be in order. This can depress the appetite, as a full stomach could lead to slower running and a quicker death.
When people take in tobacco, they feel less hungry and they tend to eat less during each meal.
Deceptive Help With Mental Illness
The boost of good feelings nicotine can bring can be a boon to people who have mental illnesses. These people may have chemical imbalances within their minds that keep them from experiencing feelings of happiness in other ways, and the soothing movements involved in lighting a cigarette or preparing a dose of smokeless tobacco can bring these people a sense of peace. The link between mental illness and smoking is particularly strong, as about 44 percent of all cigarettes sold in the United States are sold to people with mental illnesses or other addictions, according to the NIH. Nicotine might seem as though it’s helpful, but in reality, the substance could make an underlying mental health issue much worse. People with depression, for example, might have difficulty with feelings of sadness and loss on a regular basis. Smoking might provide them with a momentary boost, but when the cigarette is gone, those low feelings might return and they might be stronger than they ever were before. The physical damage caused by a nicotine addiction can also make feelings of anxiety, depression and anger much worse. It’s better for people with mental illnesses to address their concerns in a formal treatment program, rather than masking their symptoms with addictive drugs like nicotine. People with mental illnesses might also resist the idea that they’ll need to stop abusing nicotine, as it might be something they feel is quite helpful, but therapy really can make a big difference. For example, a study in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin found that of those people who were given nicotine therapies in addition to schizophrenia therapies, 40 percent decreased their use by half, and 13 percent remained abstinent from nicotine for six months. Studies like this prove that people who are addicted to nicotine can get better, if the proper help is provided.
Nicotine addictions respond well to replacement therapies, including:
These products contain nicotine, but that drug is provided in a safe format that doesn’t include all of the other noxious ingredients found in tobacco products. Those who don’t want to use nicotine in their recovery can benefit from other medications such as antidepressants, which might reduce cravings and help sad feelings to lessen. Using any kind of medication can double a person’s chances of long-term abstinence, according to Smokefree.gov, but amending chemical imbalances is only part of the process of addiction recovery. People with nicotine addictions can develop secondary addictions to the tools they used to prepare their drugs. Handling a lighter, tapping on a snuff can or cleaning a pipe becomes a way these people use their hands when they’re nervous, and some people may find it impossible to replace those motions with something that doesn’t involve nicotine. Drinking coffee, for example, can become almost unbearable for some people, as the thick liquid seems to cry out for a nicotine accompaniment. Overcoming habits like this can be hard, and sometimes, therapy is quite valuable. Here, people can identify the specific triggers that tend to cause their nicotine cravings, and they can develop new tools they can lean on when they’re tempted to use once more. Having a therapeutic partner in the fight could be key to long-term recovery.
People with underlying conditions, including eating disorders and mental illnesses, might also need therapy in order to stop abusing nicotine. If they attempt to stop on their own, their underlying conditions could increase in severity, and it might be difficult for them to handle that resurgence on their own. In a targeted program, they can learn more about their underlying illnesses, and then use that knowledge as they work on healing from their nicotine addictions. Programs like this can help people heal on multiple levels, and they might emerge with skills they never dreamed they’d possess. At Futures of Palm Beach, we help people who are dealing with a substance abuse issues with/without co-occurring disorders. Help begins with an assessment, during which we determine the depth and breadth of the problems clients face, and then we develop a comprehensive treatment program that can address those concerns. If you’d like to schedule an assessment, just give us a call.