Nicotine dependence â also called tobacco dependence â is an addiction to tobacco products caused by the drug nicotine. Nicotine dependence means you can't stop using the substance, even though it's causing you harm.
Nicotine produces physical and mood-altering effects in your brain that are temporarily pleasing. These effects make you want to use tobacco and lead to dependence. At the same time, stopping tobacco use causes withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and anxiety.
While it's the nicotine in tobacco that causes nicotine dependence, the toxic effects of tobacco result from other substances in tobacco. Smokers have much higher rates of heart disease, stroke and cancer than nonsmokers do.
Regardless of how long you've smoked, stopping smoking can improve your health. Many effective treatments for nicotine dependence are available to help you manage withdrawal and stop smoking for good. Ask your doctor for help.
For some people, using any amount of tobacco can quickly lead to nicotine dependence. Signs that you may be addicted include:
You're not alone if you've tried to stop smoking but haven't been able to stop for good. Most smokers make many attempts to stop smoking before they achieve stable, long-term abstinence from smoking.
You're more likely to stop for good if you follow a treatment plan that addresses both the physical and the behavioral aspects of nicotine dependence. Using medications and working with a counselor specially trained to help people stop smoking (a tobacco treatment specialist) will significantly boost your chances of success.
Ask your doctor, counselor or therapist to help you develop a treatment plan that works for you or to advise you on where to get help to stop smoking.
Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking. Nicotine is very addictive when delivered by inhaling tobacco smoke into the lungs, which quickly releases nicotine into the blood allowing it to get into the brain within seconds of taking a puff. In the brain nicotine increases the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help regulate mood and behavior.
Dopamine, one of these neurotransmitters, is released in the "reward center" of the brain and causes improved mood and feelings of pleasure. Experiencing these effects from nicotine is what makes tobacco so addictive.
Nicotine dependence involves behavioral (routines, habits, feelings) as well as physical factors. These behavioral associations with smoking may act as triggers â situations or feelings that activate a craving for tobacco, even if you have not smoked for some time.
Behaviors and cues that you may associate with smoking include:
To overcome your dependence on tobacco, you need to become aware of your triggers and develop a plan to deal with the behaviors and routines that you associate with smoking.
Your doctor may ask you questions or have you complete a questionnaire to get a sense of how dependent you are on nicotine. The more cigarettes you smoke each day and the sooner you smoke after awakening, the more dependent you are.
Knowing your degree of dependence will help your doctor determine the best treatment plan for you.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 known cancer-causing chemicals and thousands of other harmful substances. Even "all natural" or herbal cigarettes have chemicals that are harmful to your health.
Smoking harms almost every organ of your body and impairs your body's immune system. About half of all regular smokers will die of a disease caused by tobacco.
Women smokers are now at equal risk to men smokers of dying from lung cancer, COPD and cardiovascular disease caused by using tobacco.
The negative health effects include:
The best way to prevent tobacco dependence is to not smoke in the first place.
The best way to prevent your children from smoking is to not smoke yourself. Research has shown that children whose parents do not smoke or who successfully quit smoking are much less likely to take up smoking.
Here are steps you can take to prevent future generations from nicotine addiction and the many diseases associated with smoking:
Many products claim to be smoking-cessation aids. Many also claim to be "natural." Just remember that "natural" doesn't necessarily mean "safe." Talk with your doctor before trying any alternative medicine treatments.
It's important to have a plan for managing nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are usually the most intense during the first week after you stop smoking. They may continue for several weeks, with declining intensity.
Although most nicotine withdrawal symptoms pass within a month, you may occasionally experience a strong urge or craving to smoke months after stopping. Triggers or cues that were associated with your smoking can provoke these urges or cravings.
Here's what you can do to help manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms:
To stay smoke-free over the long haul, consider these tips:
Anyone who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is at risk of becoming dependent. Factors that influence who will use tobacco include: