Understanding the risks of nicotine, breaking addiction and more

Tobacco is a carcinogen, it causes cancer.

Tobacco is a carcinogen, it causes cancer.

What you need to know:

  • The severity of nicotine addiction is determined by the amount and frequency of using tobacco products, the type used, and genetic factors.
  • Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers.
  • Smoking cigarettes contributes to lung cancer deaths,  inhaling tobacco products increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers.

Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year worldwide, according to data from World Health Organisation (WHO). Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances, often used in cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and snuff.

What is nicotine addiction?

Nicotine is a chemical element found in tobacco. Nicotine causes addiction by attaching itself to receptor cells in your brain that cause pleasure, relaxation, or stress relief.

Addiction is the inability to stop smoking cigarettes or using other forms of nicotine.

After use, dopamine is released. This chemical makes you feel good and increases the desire to use nicotine again to get more dopamine.

Craving quickly turns into addiction because breathing in smoke every day causes changes in your brain’s chemistry, which results in tolerance or needing more of it for normal functioning.

The severity of nicotine addiction is determined by the amount and frequency of using tobacco products, the type used, and genetic factors.  

Signs of addiction

  • Wanting to quit but not being able to.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about using tobacco products even when trying hard not to use them.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, troubled concentration, or weight gain.
  • Using all kinds of creative tactics and excuses to smoke even when it is not convenient.
  • Continuing to smoke even after health problems.
  • Spending a great deal of money on cigarettes or other forms of nicotine products.
  • Feelings of guilt after using tobacco but continuing to use it anyway.

Health complications associated with nicotine addiction

Tobacco is a carcinogen, it causes cancer. Smoking cigarettes contributes to lung cancer deaths, inhaling tobacco products increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers.

The use of nicotine increases the risks of heart diseases, hypertension, and stroke.

Nicotine addiction can cause pregnancy problems both for mother and child. The foetus is exposed to nicotine because nicotine crosses the placenta easily. Pregnant women who use nicotine are at risk of preterm labour or low birth weight babies.

Smoking increases the risks of infertility. The use of nicotine can affect both the male and female reproductive systems. It also reduces libido and makes erectile dysfunction worse.

Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop diabetes than non-smokers. In smokers, insulin is unable to work effectively, resulting in higher blood sugar levels.

Treating nicotine addiction

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

These include over-the-counter gums and patches, which help reduce withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking, by replacing some nicotine in cigarettes with NRT. They can be used for a long time, however, they are ineffective if someone continues to smoke.

Nicotine medications

They help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings for nicotine over a period depending on the drug prescribed by the doctor. They include bupropion and varenicline (Chantix).  They are fit for short-term use.

Behavioural therapies

They are generally used in combination with other methods. They include counselling, support groups, and hypnosis sessions, among others. These treatments help smokers learn how to resist cravings for nicotine by identifying the situations when they usually want to use tobacco products. They also help people quit smoking by providing encouragement along with education about nicotine addiction, signs, and symptoms. Behavioural therapies furthermore provide practical tools such as coping strategies to deal with withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking.

Other alternative treatments include acupuncture, acupressure, and meditation.  They help with stress management, reducing the urge to smoke when feeling stressed, and reducing withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety by helping people relax after a stressful day at work or home.

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