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.

Nicotine Dependence Causes

Nicotine dependence is caused by the consumption of products containing nicotine. The most common cause of nicotine dependence is smoking cigarettes, but other causes include cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and snuff. The more nicotine people consume, the greater the addictive potential of nicotine and the harder it is to quit.

This addictive potential of nicotine is not limited to tobacco products, however. Any product containing nicotine can cause dependents, including nicotine gum, e-cigarettes, and nicotine patches. Some people become addicted to these non-tobacco nicotine products after using them as an aid to quit smoking.

Nicotine dependence can also be caused by passive smoking, for example by being in an unventilated room or a car with someone who is smoking. Even moderate levels of secondhand smoke are enough to deliver nicotine to the brain of an individual and cause dependence. This may cause people to develop cravings for cigarettes, and to take up smoking themselves, further increasing the dependence.

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.

Nicotine Dependence Prevention

There is only one way to prevent the development of nicotine dependence, and that is to avoid the consumption of products containing nicotine.

Certain people are at greater risk of eventually consuming nicotine. Children whose parents smoke are more likely to smoke themselves, so if parents are able to quit smoking, this will reduce the risk of their children eventually taking up the habit. People with depression and schizophrenia also often smoke as a form of self-medication for their illnesses, so early treatment of these conditions should reduce the odds that these individuals start smoking.

There also appear to be genetic factors involved in nicotine addiction. Some people possess a variation of a gene that decreases nicotine metabolism in the body. This prevents it from having its usual effect, and they are therefore less likely to develop nicotine dependence. However, even in people with this gene variant, dependence can still develop.