Beyond The Smoke Screen – Understanding Tobacco Addiction

It’s no secret that smoking or chewing tobacco is dangerous for your health. While many try to quit, not all are successful. This is primarily due to the addictive nature of smoking or chewing tobacco, caused by nicotine – the main ingredient in tobacco products, which gravely impacts the body and the mind. It becomes the skilled puppeteer manipulating the strings of your brain. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that acts on the brain’s reward  pathways. When nicotine enters the bloodstream, it reaches the brain within seconds and stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This pleasurable sensation encourages repeated use, leading to addiction.

Individuals may turn to tobacco products as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or depression. The act of smoking or using tobacco can provide a temporary sense of relief or relaxation, reinforcing the habit as a means of self-medication. Social influences play a significant role in tobacco addiction. Peer pressure, the presence of family members or friends who smoke, and exposure to smoking in one’s environment can normalize and encourage tobacco use.

Symptoms Of Tobacco And Nicotine Addiction

Cravings: Nicotine addiction leads to strong, persistent cravings for tobacco. These cravings can be triggered by various cues, such as stress, social situations, or the sight of a cigarette.

Increased Tolerance: Over time, the body adapts to the presence of nicotine, leading to tolerance and the brain adapts to nicotine, demanding higher doses to achieve the same pleasurable effects. As your tolerance increases, you find yourself consuming more tobacco products, intensifying the addiction. Smokers feel the need to smoke more frequently or inhale more deeply to achieve the desired effects.

Withdrawal Symptoms: When a person attempts to quit or reduce tobacco use, they often experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms feel like a storm on a sunny day, disrupting your peace. When you attempt to quit tobacco, your body rebels. It experiences withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and relentless cravings for nicotine.

Loss of Control: Addiction leads to the inability to control one’s use of the substance. Even when individuals are aware of the health risks and want to quit, they find it extremely difficult to do so.

Neglecting Responsibilities: In severe cases of addiction, individuals may prioritize tobacco use over their responsibilities, such as work, school, or family obligations. This can lead to strained relationships and a
decline in overall quality of life.


Complications Arising From Tobacco / Nicotine Addiction

Cancer: Tobacco consumption and smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide and is directly linked to lung, mouth, throat, oesophageal, and bladder cancer. The carcinogenic substances in
tobacco smoke can damage DNA, leading to the development of cancerous cells.

Respiratory Issues: Long-term smokers often suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These diseases can result in reduced
lung function, chronic coughing, and difficulty breathing.

Cardiovascular Problems: Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco can damage blood vessels, increase cholesterol levels,
and promote the formation of blood clots.

Pregnancy Complications:  Pregnant women who smoke are at greater risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Nicotine exposure during pregnancy
can harm both the mother and the developing foetus.

Nicotine Poisoning: Nicotine is toxic in high doses. Swallowing, inhaling, or absorbing too much nicotine through tobacco products, nicotine replacement therapy, or e-cigarettes can lead to nicotine poisoning,
which may cause symptoms such as vomiting, increased heart rate, seizures, and in severe cases, death.


Effects on the Brain

Nicotine addiction is deeply rooted in its effects on the brain’s reward system. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathways. This creates a pleasurable sensation that the brain associates with smoking, reinforcing the addiction. Over time, nicotine can change the brain’s structure and function, making it more reliant on nicotine to maintain normal dopamine levels. This neuro-adaptation makes quitting challenging and withdrawal symptoms more pronounced. The brain forms strong associations between cues (like the smell of smoke or a specific location) and the pleasurable effects of nicotine. These associations can trigger intense cravings even after extended periods of abstinence, contributing to relapse.


Treatment Options

Behavioural Therapy: Behavioural therapies like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing help individuals in identifying triggers, developing coping strategies, and setting goals for

Pharmacotherapy: Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) includes nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers, which provide controlled doses of nicotine to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Certain
prescription medications can also help by reducing cravings and withdrawal.

Support Groups: Joining support groups or counseling sessions can provide emotional support and a sense of community for individuals trying to quit. Sharing experiences and challenges with others on the
same journey can be highly motivating.

Make use of Online Resources: Numerous mobile apps and websites offer tools, tracking systems, and access to communities of people attempting to quit smoking. These resources can provide ongoing
support and motivation.

In conclusion, understanding the complexities of tobacco and nicotine addiction, is essential for both individuals struggling with addiction. Overcoming tobacco and nicotine addiction is challenging, but with the right strategies and support, it is possible to break free from this harmful habit and improve overall health and well-being.

[**Note- this article is for informational purposes only- and is not a substitute for actual clinical care.]

Leave a Reply