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Tobacco/Nicotine Addiction

Editor Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Created On
Updated On

Tobacco products such as cigarets, cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, and chewing tobacco all contain an addictive substance, Nicotine. Many who use tobacco products quickly become addicted, developing symptoms of withdrawal when stop its use. The individal will experience cravings, using the product despite knowledge of any adverse effects of tobacco use.

In fact, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Cigarette smoking results in more than 443,000 premature deaths in the United States each year and an additional 8.6 million people suffer with a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These harmful effects of smoking extends to those exposure to secondhand smoke which too cause serious diseases and death. Studies show that each year, an estimated 126 million Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and almost 50 thousand nonsmokers die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke exposure.

How Does Tobacco Affect the Brain?

The drug nicotine is found in all tobacco products, this is what causes addictive effects. When nicotine is absorbed into the individuals bloodstream it begins to stimulate the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). The epinephrine then stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate.

Nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, affecting the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure. The effects of nicotine causes the individual to develop a physical dependency. The individual will continue its use despite the knowledge of its adverse effects. When abruptly stopping the use of nicotine the individual may experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability, attention difficulties, sleep disturbances, increased appetite, and powerful cravings for tobacco.

What Other Adverse Effects Does Tobacco Have on Health?

Cigarette smoking can cause the individual to develop cancer, in fact it is responsible for about one-third of all caners and 90 percent of lung cancer cases. Smoking causes lung disease as well, commonly chronic cigarette smokers will develop chronic bronchitis and emphysema. increases the risk of heart disease, including stroke, heart attack, vascular disease, and aneurysm, and has been linked to leukemia, cataracts, and pneumonia. Those who chew tobacco (snuff) are at an increased rick of developing oral cancer.

The nicotine in tobacco products is not what causes cancer, other toxic chemicals within the tobacco product are what puts the individual at risk for severe heath consequences. Tobacco cigarettes are an mixture of chemicals such as carbon monoxide, tar, formaldehyde, cyanide, and ammonia, which are known carcinogens. The carbon monoxide increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases. As well as the tar exposes the user to an increased risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders.

There is a high risk to pregnant women who smoke’s baby. They are putting thier unborn child at risk of miscarriage, stillborn or premature infants, or infants with low birthweight.  It is also associated with learning and behavioral problems in children.

Are There Effective Treatments for Tobacco Addiction?

Tobacco addiction is a chronic relapse disease that may require multiple attempts by the individual to successfully quit. Some are able to quit with out help, others are in need of assistance and medical aid. Counseling and medications have helped numerous people to quit smoking. The following are affective treatment options when quitting smoking tobacco;

  • Behavioral Treatments
  • Nicotine Replacement Treatments
  • Non-nicotine medications
    • Bupropion
    • Vaerniciline


Statistics and Trends

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for 8th-Graders, 10th-Graders, and 12th-Graders; 2013 (in percent)*
DrugTime Period8th-Graders10th-Graders12th-Graders
Cigarettes (any use)Lifetime14.80[25.70]38.10
Past Month4.50[9.10]16.30
Smokeless TobaccoLifetime7.9014.0017.20
Past Month2.806.408.10
National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for Ages 12 or Older, Ages 12 to 17, Ages 18 to 25, and Ages 26 or Older; 2012 (in percent)*
DrugTime PeriodAges 12 or OlderAges 12 to 17Ages 18 to 25Ages 26 or Older
Cigarettes (any use)Lifetime61.90[17.40][59.50]67.90
Past Year26.10[11.80]41.0025.30
Past Month22.10[6.60][31.80]22.40
Smokeless TobaccoLifetime17.706.4019.9018.70
Past Year4.60[3.90]9.004.00
Past Month3.502.105.503.30


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