Quitting smoking can be difficult and daunting due to the two sides of addiction that it presents. Every type of addiction has a chemical or physical side and a mental or psychological side. These two combine to present a powerful barrier when trying to free oneself from the particular addiction. One weapon that should be in every addicts arsenal when trying to beat addiction is knowledge of the enemy. This article specifically looks at nicotine addiction and the effect it has on every smoker. It also looks at the nature of nicotine itself, what effects it has on the body and how its grip makes quitting smoking a difficult task.
According to the 1996 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, around 62 million people aged 12 and older in the United States smoke cigarettes. This makes nicotine one of the most heavily used addictive drugs in the US. When a smoker inhales cigarette smoke it takes about 7 seconds for the nicotine in the smoke to be absorbed into the blood stream and affect the brain. It takes up to two hours for enough nicotine to leave the body to cause a craving. Nicotine then starts to affect the body’s reward system similarly to other addictive drugs such as cocaine. It has the overall effect of increasing alertness and enhancing mental performance. Nicotine affects the cardiovascular system by increasing heart rate and blood pressure and restricting blood flow to the heart muscle. Nicotine also stimulates the release of the hormone epinephrine which is a “fight or flight” hormone with a powerful effect on the nervous system. Another hormone that nicotine promotes the release of is beta-endorphin which inhibits pain.
Nicotine itself is a colourless oily compound and if you were to inject it directly into your bloodstream you would die, as it is quite a strong poison, 40-60mg of nicotine would be a lethal dose to a human. In fact its natural function in plants of the nightshade family is as an anti-herbivore chemical to prevent the plant being eaten. This is why nicotine has been widely used in the past as an insecticide, bear this in mind next time you smoke a cigarette or as you try to quit smoking.
Nicotine content in cigarettes has actually slowly increased over the years, and one study found that there was an average increase of 1.6% per year between the years of 1998 and 2005. One could take this cynically and suggest that a smoking industry with so much hostility towards it in legislation and campaigning is fighting back by trying to drug its smokers into continued loyalty.
There is no doubt that nicotine is a powerful and addictive drug, according the American Heart Association “Nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break.” It has their interest as nicotine has links to circulatory disease. As a stimulant it raises blood pressure and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body. This causes the body to release fats and cholesterol into the blood stream possibly adding to the risk of failure in peripheral circulation.
Nicotine is only one of the 400 or so damaging substances in tobacco smoke, I think you will agree that it does enough damage on its own to warrant special attention. When you next think of quitting smoking, think about what nicotine does to you and what effect it has on your body, how nicotine keeps you addicted to smoking and how you can take steps to beat it.