Addiction

Too Long; Didn't Read

It is extremely difficult to quit smoking tobacco for several reasons: It contains nicotine, which is very addictive. Smoking is associated with many other activities, including but not limited to driving a car, eating food, drinking or hanging out with friends. And some people smoke to relax or deal with stress.

Tobacco contributes to chronic disease and premature death, yet millions of people smoke (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). Why? Tobacco contains nicotine, which is a chemical compound that is extremely addictive. That's the short answer. In addition to nicotine's impact on the nervous system, smoking is driven by psychological and social components (World Health Organization [WHO], 2010). Hence, it's difficult to quit smoking.

In general, tobacco products are either combustible (for example, cigarettes, cigars, or loose tobacco), or non-combustible, such as chewing tobacco or snuff. Nicotine in combustible tobacco (smoke) is absorbed in the lungs. But nicotine in non-combustible (smokeless) tobacco is absorbed in the mouth or nasal passages (WHO, 2010).

Smoking tobacco, especially cigarettes, delivers nicotine that can reach the brain in about 7 seconds. Smokers can control the amount of nicotine and maintain a state of equilibrium (satisfaction) (WHO, 2010). That said, once a person becomes physically addicted it's no longer about satisfaction, it's about relieving the withdrawal symptoms associated with not having nicotine.

Common illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are similar to smoking tobacco; that is, the processes that determine addiction are similar (WHO, 2010). Both contribute to the release of dopamine — a chemical messenger in the brain (neurotransmitter). Increased levels of dopamine can improve attention, memory, mood, performance and pleasure. Too much dopamine, however, can reduce the brain's natural capacity to produce it. In that case, tobacco use or illicit drug use must increase to achieve the same level of satisfaction — tolerance (WHO, 2010).

As adolescents and young adults make the transition to adulthood, some of them start smoking tobacco. In addition to social norms, as well as other environmental components (for example, culture, education and socio-economic status), a person's immediate social connections can influence smoking behavior (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). Thus, the younger a person starts smoking, the more difficult it is to quit. Here is Terrie's story.

If you want to quit smoking, there are many excellent resources out there. But ultimately it comes down to personal conviction: you must want to live more than you want to smoke. Smokefree.gov is a great place to start. Another option is Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It's an excellent book that has enabled millions of people to quit smoking.

Quitting is difficult. The cravings associated with nicotine withdrawal are enough to make most people give up. However, that part gets much easier within the first month. After that, you must contend with personal and social influences, as well as triggers that make you think about smoking.

Find something to do with your hands — something you love. Then do it over and over again. Do it every time you think about tobacco. Or develop your own strategy. You can succeed. Good luck!

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. (2012). 4, Social, Environmental, Cognitive, and Genetic Influences on the Use of Tobacco Among Youth. In Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from Social, Environmental, Cognitive, and Genetic Influences on the Use of Tobacco Among Youth, HHS, CDC.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. (2014). The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of The Surgeon General. Retrieved from The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress, HHS, CDC.
  3. World Health Organization. (2010). 7, Addiction to Nicotine. In Gender, Women, and the Tobacco Epidemic (pp. 137-149) [PDF document]. Retrieved from Addiction to Nicotine, WHO.

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