Nicotine Addiction and Cigarettes

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Is nicotine addicting?

Yes, nicotine, which is a prime drug in cigarettes, is highly addicting. Cigarette smokes contains, believe it or not, thousands of substances, and one of them is nicotine, which is found only in tobacco leaf. Smokers who crave it find it hard to go without a cigarette. Those who are under stress or feel nervous are the ones at a higher risk of becoming addicted to nicotine.

Why do people smoke?

It almost always starts as an adventure among teenagers, peer pressure, rebellion against society and the non-smoking elders who forbid smoking. Smokers also get hooked on the smell, taste and feel of cigarettes. Also, smoker "link" smoking with certain activities, like after eating, or while on the phone, or while on coffee break, or when confronted with a stress situation, or when with friends or simply relaxing at home. This "linkage" makes the habit harder to break and addiction stronger.

How does nicotine work?

Just like many "central acting" drugs, nicotine works on the brain and the "nerve" system. When one smokes a cigarette, nicotine is absorbed rapidly through the buccal mucosa (lining of the mouth) into the blood circulation, faster than heroin given intravenously in the arm. And when the smoker inhales the smokes, nicotine is drawn into the lungs and into the blood circulation also. This nicotine-filled blood is pumped by the heart to the brain and all over the body. It takes only seven (7) seconds for the nicotine to reach the brain, and this sudden burst of nicotine gives an instant "high." If the smoker is a pregnant woman, the nicotine also gets to the fetus through the connecting arteries.

How does nicotine provide "relaxation"?

Nicotine acts in a dual role. In the early part of the day, it acts like an "upper,"speeding up many body reactions like a stimulant. Late in the day, it acts like a "downer" it seems to act like a sedative and help people relax. How nicotine affects the body depends on the amount of nicotine, time elapsed from the last cigarette, stress level, the personality of the smoker, and even the time of the day.

What are the effects of nicotine?

In large amount, nicotine, like other addictive drugs (heroin and cocaine), is a poison. Nicotine has been used to kill insects. Nicotine causes tachycardia (fast heart beat), which causes tachypnea (fast breathing), resulting in increased oxygen consumption of the body. Nicotine also causes spasm in the arteries, narrowing its caliber and thus slowing the flow of blood. It also cause increased in the blood pressure as the arteries constrict to smaller caliber. Nicotine also thickens the blood, resulting in tendency of the smoker's body to form blood clots. It also increases the speed of hardening of the arteries, making the cholesterol (fats) adhere to the walls of the arteries at a faster rate. This can cause heart attacks, stroke, or blockage of arteries in the carotid (neck) arteries, renal (kidney) arteries or leg arteries.

Who can't smokers use only one stick a day?

Most smokers are not satisfied with only one or two sticks of cigarettes a day. Just like drug addicts, they crave for more. Many who smoke for the first time, feel nauseated and dizzy. As they continue, these unpleasant feelings and replaced with a "high" or an "upper" effect. As their system gets used to the level of nicotine in their blood, and soon, they are hooked and would need a higher nicotine level to achieve the same "high" to they used to get with one or two sticks a day. Pretty soon, they would need a pack or two a day to be satisfied, as their body tolerance and "nicotine need" increases. At this point, they are so addicted they only feel "good" or "comfortable" when the "necessary" level of nicotine is in their blood stream. This is nothing but drug addiction.

Why should smokers quit?

Cigarette smoking kills. This has been scientifically proven beyond any doubt, time and again. One out of four smokers dies prematurely because of smoking. One person dies every minute (five persons have died since you started reading this article the past five minutes) of heart attack, a cigarette related illness, not to mention those from cancer or the lungs and emphysema. In ths past it was "cool" to smoke, but today, it is considered a dirty habit, a deadly habit. The trend now to have a smoke-free society, smoke-free public pleaces, like airports, airlines, libraries, restaurants, etc. The air pollution from cigarette smokes also cause illnesses among non-smokers exposed to secondhand smokes, a subject matter we shall address in our Heart to Heart column next week.

What other illnesses can cigarette smoking cause?

Emphysema of the lungs, stroke, cancer of the lungs, cancer of the urinary bladder, cancer of the breasts and other female organs, cancer of the throat and the mouth, are a few of them. These should be enough to scare us all. Among pregnant women who smoke, their fetuses are also adversely affected, making the children more prone to respiratory diseases, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, etc. Smoking is not only an act of "attempting suicide" but also an act that could cause harm to family members and other people, not to mention the expenses for this dangerous habit and its effect on our home, to the public, and to our environment.

What are the helpful hints and strategy to quit smoking?

First and foremost is making a firm decision to quit. Your mind must be convinced that smoking can bring you premature death, not to mention the illnesses, pain, suffering (physical, emotional and financial), and other hardships you and your family will go through. Once you are convinced, and resolved, plan a strategy:

  1. Pick a good time to quit. Do not try to quit when you are under a lot of stress from certain incidents or situation in your life, or during the holidays. Quitting "cold turkey" has been found to be more effective by many who have successfully quit the habit, than doing it "gradually."
  2. Understand and accept that when you start to quit, you might feel strange, anxious, sleepy or excited, lightheaded, irritable, nervous, or nauseated, have abdominal cramps, improved appetite, develop headaches and, of course, you will have a craving for tobacco. You have to understand and accept these temporary side-effects of quitting.
  3. Start an exercise regimen, like walking so many miles a day, or around your block, or in a gym, or do ballroom dancing regularly. Exercise is a big boost to the feeling of well-being as it increases the secretion of adrenalin and endomorphins circulating in our blood stream. Exercise also improves our spirit and emotional stability.
  4. Get plenty of sleep, have a balanced diet and drink a lot of water. Instead of a cigarette in your mouth, chew gum or suck on candies, as a temporary substitute.
  5. Talk to your friends and family members, telling them your decision to quit, and ask for their patience and understanding while you go through the process of quitting from this addiction, when you are irritable, etc.
  6. If you do not succeed, try quitting again, and again, until you succeed. Many quitters have been successful after two or three attempts. The stronger the personality and the more disciplined the person is the easier he/she can quit. So, do not give up. Keep on trying.
  7. If there are two or more of you (husband and wife, couples who are friends, or two or more friends), quitting as a group has been found to be easier and more successful. You could even have meetings to hear about the progress of your "group project."
  8. Talk to your physicians about nicotine "patches" or pills, which have helped thousands quit smoking.
©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.