Understanding Nicotine Dependence

Nicotine Dependence is a term we use to describe both the physical and psychological dependence on the powerfully addictive drug found in cigarettes. Did you know that more than 4,000 chemicals have been identified in Cigarettes and as many as 63 of these chemicals are know to cause cancer (Carcinogens)? Some examples are: Benzene, Arsenic (Rat Poison), Carbon Monoxide (Car Exhaust), Ammonia (Toilet Bowl Cleaner), and Formaldehyde (body preserve). Carcinogens and other chemicals are found in ALL tobacco products so, don't think by switching to chew, cigars, or Hookahs (for example), you are being healthier!

HookWhile these chemicals are all harmful to our bodies, it's the nicotine that get's us hooked. Nicotine is a stimulant which increases our blood pressure, increases our heart rate and, causes our blood vessels to constrict. These effects combine to greatly increase our risk of heart disease; the number one killer of both men and women. Nicotine, itself, is a stressor on our body.

So what happens when we quit smoking? Withdrawal symptoms can appear within hours of your last puff due to the drop of nicotine in your system. That's what causes you to crave another cigarette. Symptoms of nicotine dependence and withdrawal can vary greatly from person to person. I've counseled people who were terrified to quit because of the fear of withdrawal symptoms, later to say "it was no big deal." However, for others, their symptoms are more intense and can last as long as three weeks. For most people, the most severe withdrawal symptoms occur during the first few days after quitting. Quit smoking medications can help reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Some symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Hunger
  • Loss of concentration
  • Increased hunger
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty falling asleep
The nicotine found in cigarettes can also be psychologically addicting as well. Many people rely on nicotine to cope with uncomfortable feelings that go along with stress, anger, loneliness, and fear. If you've experiences this, you will need to focus greatly on finding other coping strategies to help you accept these uncomfortable feelings.

Remember, that quitting smoking is a process. You will learn a lot along the way about what works for you and what doesn't. Don't get wrapped up in what you "might" experience while quitting smoking. I've talked with lots of people who have nearly psyched themselves out of quitting because they were too worked up about fears about quitting.

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