Recognizing Nicotine Addiction
Because of the widespread use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and snuff, it can be difficult to spot an actual addiction to nicotine.
In 2020, nearly 13 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 and older said they had used a tobacco product at least once in the month before being interviewed.
Many of these people have a nicotine addiction and are in denial. They may be social smokers who only use tobacco while they are out with friends, or they may be smokers who believe they can quit when they are ready. Recognizing the signs of an addiction to nicotine is important to overcoming denial and getting over the addiction.
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Common Signs of Addiction
- Requiring more tobacco to feel satisfaction.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability.
- Using tobacco in larger amounts than intended.
- Having a desire to quit or decrease use but being unable to do so.
- Experiencing cravings and intense urges to use tobacco.
- Continued tobacco use despite awareness of consequences and health risks.
The physical symptoms of nicotine addiction are caused by withdrawal. Withdrawal from nicotine occurs because the addicted brain can no longer naturally produce adequate levels of certain chemicals, like dopamine. These symptoms can crop up in as little as two hours after not using tobacco and tend to be the worst 2-3 days after quitting.
Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Irritability and frustration
- Increased appetite and weight gain
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Once a person’s brain is rewired for addiction to tobacco, scenarios that are associated with tobacco use (psychological triggers) can cause cravings for tobacco.
Common triggers for people with a nicotine addiction are driving, drinking, music, stress, work, and after meals.
The Risks of Tobacco
Most people, including those who use tobacco, are aware of the serious health risks associated with using tobacco. There are more tobacco-related deaths each year than all deaths from illicit drugs, alcohol, car accidents and murders combined. Many people with addictions have a desire to quit because they understand the health risks. Therefore, it is unsurprising that about 70% of tobacco users have a desire to quit.
Some of the health risks associated with tobacco use include:
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Lung cancer
- Heart disease
- Mouth and esophageal cancer
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Tobacco and Cancer
These are only some of the most common health risks associated with tobacco use. Carcinogenic chemicals in tobacco cause genetic changes, putting tobacco users at a higher risk for many types of cancer.
Carcinogens are cancer-causing chemicals that alter a person’s DNA. The carcinogens in tobacco may cause abnormal cell growth that can develop into cancerous tumors. Smoking causes lung cancer deaths in approximately 90% of men and 80% of women.
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Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience