Nicotine is a stimulant that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants. Addiction to this stimulant is called “nicotine addiction.” Nicotine is also found in tobacco plant. Smoking is the most common form of nicotine consumption and cigarettes, pipes, and cigars are some ways to inhale nicotine through smoking. Other than smoking, people also consume tobacco products that can be chewed, placed inside the mouth, or snorted and this way of nicotine consumption is even more dangerous. Nicotine was also used as an insecticide in the early twentieth century and during this usage, several cases of nicotine poisoning were recorded. If nicotine is somehow ingested, the small intestine quickly absorbs it and symptoms are visible within minutes to four hours of consumption. Severe exposure might result in death also. The addiction to nicotine can be physical, mental, or even behavioural. Physical addiction means the users crave the chemical. Mental addiction implies that users consciously crave the effects of nicotine. Behavioural addiction implies that users accustom themselves to take it in certain situations or times, such as after meals or when under stress. For these users, consuming nicotine is related to the action of eating meals and thus becomes a part of their daily activities. Addiction to nicotine generally means addiction to tobacco products which produce tars and carcinogens in smoke and thus become even more dangerous.
Nicotine is very addictive in nature, even infrequent use results in addiction. Nicotine is classified as a stimulant as it stimulates body systems, which might sound a good thing, but it does more harm to the body than it benefits. Everyone knows this but, so many people are addicted to nicotine, irrespective of literacy. What is the cause of the addiction? When nicotine reaches the brain, it increases the release of neurotransmitters, which regulate mood and behaviour. One of such neurotransmitter is 'Dopamine”, which is also called 'reward centre' of the brain. Dopamine causes improved mood and feelings of pleasure. Nicotine increases the levels of beta-endorphin, which reduces anxiety.These effects are the main reason that people get addicted to nicotine and thus tobacco products. Consumption might simply start as a thrilling experience with friends for young people, but it is very easy to get addicted.
There are medications that can help in quitting smoking or at least in lessening the cravings. Nicotine replacement therapy via patches, gums or inhalers is also another option, which help to defeat the addiction in a slow and methodical manner. People get addicted to nicotine because of dopamine, so taking antidepressants also help as they increase dopamine production. They should be taken strictly as per doctor’s prescription only. When a person is trying to quit, there are some coping skills which aid in the process. These include regular exercise, choosing snacks that keeps both mouth and hands busy, choosing healthy meals, removing all tobacco products from vicinity, avoiding situations that might trigger a relapse. Setting realistic goals and rewarding oneself also helps. Another way of overcoming the addiction is with the help of support groups. Support groups have people facing the same challenges and they will be helpful in teaching coping skills and keeping the person motivated. Other solutions like hypnosis, acupuncture, herbs, essential oils are also available, but it is important to study the safety and efficacy of each option before trying.
The best way to prevent the addiction is to avoid nicotine consumption, that implies avoiding tobacco products. Making the children aware of the harmful effects of tobacco in schools is really very important. Efforts should be made in the initial stages or when the dependence is low to stop the consumption, so that the dependence doesn’t become high. Most people become addicted even without realizing it. Everyone should be aware of the pattern of transitions from initial to higher stages, so that they can take help in the initial stages only.
Addicted users who are trying to overcome the addiction experience withdrawal effects. These include intense cravings for nicotine, tingling in the hands and feet, sweating, nausea, cramping, headaches, sore throat and coughing, difficulty in concentrating, depression, weight gain, irritability, anxiety, and fatigue. These symptoms peak during the first week but each passing day will get easier. In most cases, the symptoms go away in two weeks’ time, but some people might experience the withdrawal effect for months. One should be alert to sudden cravings, which are common even after the symptoms subside. Having strong willpower and discipline helps in such times.