Nicotine is a toxic, oily liquid that is the main ingredient in tobacco leaves. Tobacco is ingested into the body by smoking, chewing, or sniffing; yet the most common way is through smoking cigarettes. Other ways include smoking pipes, chewing tobacco, and nasal tobacco. Nicotine is highly addictive and acts as a stimulant. In the brain, it stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in reward and motivation as well as in mood, sleep, attention, and other areas. Nicotine becomes addictive by controlling the dopamine pathway in the brain, causing it to release dopamine in the presence of nicotine. This create cravings in the brain in response to low levels of nicotine; thus, starting the cycle again. Nicotine affects the body by causing nausea, lowered blood pressure, dizziness, and heart palpitations
, along with feelings of alertness, well-being, and other pleasurable feelings. Once the cycle has begun, like other addictions, a person will start to require ever-increasing doses of nicotine to maintain a comfortable level.
- How Can I Quit Smoking?: Strategies for kicking the habit for good.
Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
When someone attempts to quit using tobacco
, they often experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The effects are predominantly felt physically, but there can also be emotional, mental, and psychological effects. The physical symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, dizziness, weight gain or increased appetite, tingling in the hands and feet, sweating, decreased heart rate, stomach problems such as cramping and nausea, and cold-like symptoms. Emotional, mental, and psychological symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, anger, insomnia, depression, and mental confusion. The symptoms of withdrawal can often start within just a few hours of nicotine cessation. They typically peak within 1-4 days and can last for 3 or 4 weeks.
- Nicotine Addiction and Withdrawal: A page from MedlinePlus that discusses nicotine addiction and the symptoms and treatment for it.
- Nicotine Craving and Withdrawal Symptoms (PDF) – Know the symptoms you might find yourself experiencing while quitting.
Methods of Recovery from Nicotine Addiction
There are many different treatment options when it comes to quitting nicotine. For some people, it is necessary that they quit cold turkey, but other people need the help of medication therapy or other therapies such as hypnosis, acupuncture, and behavioral therapy. Medication therapies work by either providing a nicotine replacement in continually decreasing doses or by stimulating the dopamine pathways in the brain while blocking the nicotine receptors, thus reducing and alleviating common withdrawal symptoms. Hypnosis, acupuncture, and behavioral therapy can help address the stress in a person's life that may be contributing to their smoking addiction. No matter which therapy is undertaken, it is important for people to develop a plan to manage their quitting progress and how they deal with cravings.
- American Lung Association: There is perhaps no organization in the world more dedicated to getting smokers to quit than the American Lung Association.
- Smoking Cessation Medicines (PDF): Know your options and give yourself the best opportunity to succeed when quitting.
Support Groups for Nicotine Withdrawal
When going through an addiction recovery process, it is very important to seek out help from others. Networking with other people going through the withdrawal process or those who have already been through it will give a person moral support to help them overcome the withdrawal symptoms and cravings, tips and tricks that they can use in their own journey, and resources for further therapy if they need it. Nicotine addiction support groups are like many other addiction support groups. The purpose is to provide nonjudgmental advice, information, and support for people trying to quit nicotine. For people who have been addicted to nicotine over the course of many years, it may be necessary to attend a support group for awhile in order to resist the temptation to return to the habit.
- A Guide to Remaining Smoke Free (PDF): A guide to help you stay smoke free when the cravings return.
- Helping A Loved One Quit: An article about how support can help loved ones kick their tobacco addictions.
- Help A Friend Quit Smoking: Some great tips and information on how to provide support and help a friend quit smoking.
Falling Off the Wagon and Getting Back On
Quitting nicotine is not easy. It is important to make a plan and to keep working at it to overcome the addiction. If you fall off the wagon, do not dwell on the mistake, just move on and focus on getting back on track. Just remember the reasons that you wanted to quit in the first place. Think about how much healthier you will be when you are nicotine-free and how it will impact your relationships and finances. Also think about how you got off track. Make a plan to deal with any distractions and situations that could cause you to slip. If you have a complete relapse and return to the nicotine addiction, do not beat yourself up over it. Getting help through a therapy program or support group may be what it takes for you to overcome the addiction for good.
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