Nicotine Dependence

What is Nicotine Dependence?

Nicotine Dependence is the addiction to nicotine found in tobacco products.

It is a form of addiction that makes it very difficult for the patient to quit smoking even though they are aware of the devastating effects that this habit has on their health.

Nicotine has temporarily pleasing effects on the brain that lead people to consuming it frequently.

This substance influences the central nervous system and leads to an increased heartbeat, higher blood pressure and faster respiratory movements. It also increases the level of dopamine in circulation creating an artificial sense of pleasure and reward.

What are the Symptoms of Nicotine Dependence?

Nicotine is an addictive drug and the dependence it creates is quite similar to other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. The most obvious symptom of nicotine dependence is that the person can’t stop smoking even if they tried to quit several times.

When a person tries to quit, they can have cravings that come with restlessness, anxiety, irritability, depression, anger, insomnia, and even diarrhea or constipation.  They may continue to smoke even if they have health problems.  This dependence can also have direct repercussions on the daily life since people tend to avoid going to places where they cannot smoke or participating in activities where smoking is not possible.

The effects can limit normal every day activities such as recreation (it might even be hard for some people to sit through an entire movie at the theater,) traveling (long-distance traveling might be nearly impossible,) working and interacting with other people in situations where smoking is not acceptable.

People who are addicted to nicotine go through a withdrawal process that needs to be monitored from both a medical and a psychological point of view.

How is Nicotine Dependence Treated?

There are many ways to treat nicotine dependence to allow you to quit smoking. Usually several methods of treatment in combination lead the best results.

Medications are available for nicotine dependence that have been approved as effective and safe.  Some doctors prescribe more than one medication to get the best results.

One of the most common forms of treatment is nicotine replacement therapy.  This gives you controlled amounts of nicotine without the harmful chemicals that are found in cigarettes and minimizes cravings and other symptoms. Some of the types of nicotine replacement therapy include the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, and nicotine lozenges. These are all available over-the-counter.  Doctors can also prescribe nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhalers.

Other medications do not contain nicotine.  Bupropian (Zyban) is an antidepressant that increases levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain – the same chemicals that nicotine boosts.  Varenicline (Chantix) is another medication that decreases symptoms of withdrawal while acting on the brain’s receptors. Nortriptyline (Pamelor) is a tricyclic antidepressant that increases levels of norepinephrine.  These medications come with their own side effects though so you should discuss this with your doctor.

Many people who try to quit smoking find support groups, counseling and other programs to be helpful.  They are often used in combination with other treatments. There are individual and group programs, telephone counseling, and internet based counseling programs.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 10, 2017