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Understanding Nicotine Addiction and Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Understanding Nicotine Addiction and Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Cigarettes and other tobacco products contain one of the most addictive drugs around: nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal is a difficult proposition. Quit smoking is difficult, but we can help. Anne Penman Laser smoking cessation program allows you to be smoke free and free from nicotine addiction.

By Dennis Thompson, Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass, III, MD, MPH
“I can quit whenever I want to,” is a familiar refrain among many cigarette smokers. But if that were true, the statistics would paint a different picture. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 percent of smokers want to quit completely, and about 40 percent try to stop each year — but of those who try to quit, only about four to seven percent are successful. Any smoker who’s tried to quit can tell you it isn’t just a question of willpower. For many, it’s all about the nicotine.
Nicotine is the powerful alkaloid found in tobacco that causes cigarette smokers to become addicted, and it’s even more powerful than morphine. Nicotine acts on neurotransmitters in the brain, causing a wide range of biochemical reactions that result in pleasure for the smoker. But, like other drugs, nicotine’s effect weakens as the body adapts to it. Smokers must smoke more to get the same good feeling, and will have to deal with nicotine withdrawal if they try to stop smoking or using tobacco products.

Nicotine Delivery and Effect
Cigarettes are the most efficient delivery system for nicotine. A lit cigarette vaporizes the nicotine in the tobacco, which enters the body in vapor form and on tar droplets as part of cigarette smoke. The lungs and the mucosal lining of the nose and mouth absorb the nicotine into the smoker’s system.
Once inside the smoker’s bloodstream, the nicotine stimulates the body’s adrenal glands to produce more adrenaline. The adrenaline creates a “rush” that increases the smoker’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.
Nicotine also manipulates several neurotransmitters in the body, producing varied effects that last longer than the initial adrenaline kick. Nicotine affects:

  • Dopamine, resulting in pleasure and appetite suppression
  • Norepinephrine, resulting in arousal and appetite suppression
  • Acetylcholine, resulting in arousal and enhancement of cognition
  • Vasopressin, resulting in memory improvement
  • Serotonin, resulting in mood control and appetite suppression
  • Beta-endorphin, resulting in reduced anxiety and tension

Because cigarette smokers inhale tobacco smoke into their lungs, nicotine is processed rapidly and can reach the brain in as little as 10 seconds. Cigar and pipe smokers typically do not take smoke into their lungs, so the nicotine is instead absorbed more slowly through the mucous membranes in the mouth and nose, muting the drug’s effect.

Nicotine Addiction
A smoker inhales 1 to 2 milligrams of nicotine with every cigarette, taking 10 puffs over an average 5-minute period. That means a person who smokes one to two packs a day receives 200 to 400 “hits” of nicotine to the brain a day.
However, the kick experienced with every cigarette lasts only a few minutes, and the neurotransmitter effects are equally short-lived. The body breaks down, or metabolizes, nicotine rapidly, and the estimated half-life of nicotine in the bloodstream is about two hours. The smoker must light up another cigarette within a few hours to maintain the nicotine high. If the smoker doesn’t, nicotine withdrawal will begin.
The nicotine delivered by cigarette smoking is considered as addictive as heroin and is:

  • 1,000 times more potent than alcohol
  • 10 to 100 times more potent that barbiturates
  • 5 to 10 times more potent than cocaine or morphine

Nicotine Withdrawal
Smokers dealing with nicotine withdrawal are known to experience:

  • Irritability
  • Intense cravings
  • Anger and hostility
  • Anxiety, nervousness, and panic
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Increased appetite and weight gain

Smokers going through nicotine withdrawal also might experience a range of physical effects that include sweating, constipation, dry mouth, mouth ulcers, pain in their limbs, coughing, and soreness of their throat, gums, or tongue.

When Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms Start
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms begin a few hours after the last cigarette is smoked, producing intense and overwhelming cravings. These symptoms peak within a few days after quitting smoking, and can subside within a few weeks.
However, some smokers trying to quit could feel some of these symptoms for months after smoking that last cigarette. The nicotine high also becomes associated with certain activities and triggers in the smoker’s mind, so that the urge to smoke could strike when the person is doing something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee or chatting with a friend on the phone. Nicotine is an insidious drug that requires focused effort to kick.

At Anne Penman Laser Therapy, we can help you quit smoking. Our laser smoking cessation program is the most advanced treatment for people who smoke cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes.

 

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