Nicotine Dependence

Nicotine dependence can be defined as a physical and psychological addiction to the continued use of tobacco products, such as cigarettes or chewing tobacco. Nicotine is an addictive and psychoactive chemical that is contained in tobacco that is simultaneously a stimulant and a sedative. Nicotine alters brain chemistry and changes the mood, helping to release dopamine in the brain, which is associated with pleasurable feelings. Nicotine can produce a dependence by changing the physical structure of the body and by being associated with certain situations and circumstances. These two qualities make nicotine dependence a very difficult addiction to overcome.


Symptoms of Nicotine Dependence


Many of the symptoms that accompany nicotine dependence are dormant until a person attempts to quit. While smoking or using other tobacco products, a person may notice an immediate decrease of negative feelings and temporary relief from stress. The body is also affected each time a person uses tobacco, as the blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen use will increase. Continued use of this drug causes a strain on the cardiovascular and other bodily systems. Additionally, associations can be formed  in the brain that link smoking with stress, certain social situations and certain activities. This can contribute to the psychological addiction. Many of the more apparent symptoms of nicotine dependence occur after long-term use or when attempts are made at quitting. Smoking can lead to many other disease or illness, such as heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, emphysema and others. Additionally, nicotine dependence will reveal symptoms of withdrawal when a person tries to stop using. Following are possible withdrawal symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Increase in appetite
  • Depression
  • Increased anxiety or feelings of panic
  • Decrease heart rate
  • Coughing
  • Lack of focus or inability to concentrate
  • Constant thoughts about smoking and cravings for tobacco products


Causes of Nicotine Dependence


Nicotine dependence can easily be caused due to the high rate of addiction that nicotine causes. It has been reported that people who smoke as few as 4 cigarettes a day can quickly become dependent. People begin to smoke for a number of reasons, including peer pressure and the desire to fit in with a certain crowd, to alleviate stress or when the brain associates smoking with certain social or functional activities. Growing up in a family who uses nicotine can increase the risk for associations to form, leading to frequent use and potential addiction.


Diagnosis of Nicotine Dependence


Nicotine dependence is one of the few mental disorders that is often self-diagnosed. Users of the drug are generally aware of their own dependence and can recognize symptoms of withdrawal at will. Physicians and mental health professionals are generally concerned with assessments and evaluations of a persons individual circumstances to help determine which of the many forms of treatment may be most beneficial to the case.


Treatment Options for Nicotine Dependence


There are quite a few treatment options for nicotine dependence, but certain programs are not successful for some people. Many people must try several different types of smoking cessation before finding a program that works. There are several options to help withdraw from nicotine dependence, and following is a brief description of some:

  • Medications – many prescription and non-prescription medications are available to decrease nicotine cravings. Medications can be found in the form of pills, gum, patches and other substances aimed at reducing dependence.
  • Support groups and therapy – support groups can help nicotine dependent individuals to form new and mutually supportive relationships that provide ideas and new tactics for quitting. Different types of therapy, such as one-on-one counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy can help a patient to pinpoint triggering factors and learn new activities that may help reduce the need to smoke.
  • Alternative treatments – hypnosis, meditation and acupuncture are just a few of the alternative remedies that have shown significant success rates for people with nicotine dependence. Other alternatives, such as herbal remedies or special dietary changes can also lead to a decrease in the desire for nicotine.