Using any form of tobacco, including smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, or using chewing tobacco or snuff, can rapidly lead to addiction. The substance in tobacco that causes addiction is called nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that causes us to temporarily feel good or energized. If you are depressed, it can provide a short boost. It also causes the release of natural chemicals in our brain called beta-endorphins. These chemicals cause us to feel more alert and calm. The problem is that nicotine isn't stored in the body so these effects last only a few minutes. We need to absorb more and more nicotine to make the effects last.
If we consume nicotine long enough, our brains may compensate and lower our natural energy level or mood. So, instead of providing a temporary high, people smoke just to feel "normal". When some people go without tobacco for more than a few hours they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as lack of energy, slight depression, and difficulty concentrating. They smoke to avoid feeling this way. But when you quit for good, withdrawal symptoms will pass within a few days. This is evidence that your body has begun to heal itself.
Alcohol, caffeine and even chocolate can produce small changes in our mood, so what's different about nicotine? First, nicotine provides a bigger boost than chocolate or a cup of coffee. Perhaps most importantly, nicotine passes into our brains much more quickly than most other substances. Nicotine enters your brain within 10 seconds of taking a puff on a cigarette. This rapid delivery of nicotine means that we develop a strong association between using tobacco and the feelings it brings.
Nicotine is also highly addictive because it causes changes in your brain. Fortunately, most of these changes will be reversed once you quit smoking. However, some changes may last for long periods of time and may explain why some people get cravings to smoke many months or years after quitting.
No. While changes in brain and body chemistry are a big part of addiction, they don't tell the whole story. Smoking is also a learned behaviour. For example, over a one year period, a one-pack a day smoker will take a puff more than 70,000 times. We begin to learn or associate things such as the way we hold or light a cigarette or take it out of the package with the pleasant feelings or sense of relief that it brings us. We also learn to associate having a cigarette with other things we do immediately before or after smoking such as drinking coffee or alcohol, and enjoying a good meal.
Because smoking often requires us to take a break from our daily duties, we may also learn to associate smoking with the temporary relief of worry, tension, boredom or fatigue. We may also associate smoking with having a good time with friends. But, with practice and preparation, we can break old behavioural habits and learn new ways of getting the benefits we associate with smoking.
Scientists don't really know how long it takes to become addicted. Some say that the process begins after only a few cigarettes while others believe it may take a few months or even years after starting to smoke. It probably varies from person to person and depends on how much you smoke or use other forms of tobacco. For example, some people have certain genes that make them more susceptible to nicotine addiction. It may also depend upon whether your mother smoked during pregnancy.
No, not everyone who smokes will develop what doctors call nicotine dependency. Recent estimates suggest that about half of daily smokers have a nicotine dependency. The rate of dependency among occasional smokers is very low.
Different people have different levels of addiction. However, the more you smoke, the more likely you are to be addicted. Persons who smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day are less likely to be addicted. Smoking an average of more than 25 cigarettes a day is a strong indication of addiction. The sooner you have to smoke after getting out of bed, the more likely you are addicted. People with moderate to high levels of addiction smoke within 30 minutes of getting up.
You may be addicted if going without a cigarette for more than a few hours causes you to experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. Finally, you may be addicted if you have made several serious attempts to quit but have been unable to stay smokefree for more than a couple of days. The more these situations are true of you, the more likely you are dependent on nicotine.
Yes. More than half of all people who have ever smoked in Canada have already quit smoking. This includes men and women of all ages and all levels of addiction. For smokers with low levels of addiction, quitting may be relatively easy. However, for others, quitting may require some careful planning and learning some new skills. It may even require a few practice attempts before you succeed for good.
Some may wish to take advantage of telephone quit-lines or other community resources (contact your local public health office). Many have found Health
Canada's online e-Quit program helpful. Some people practice reducing
the amount smoked before quitting for good.
To help break a strong addiction, prepare to cut back and plan to get help
There are many ways to cut back. The easiest cigarettes to cut out are the ones you don't need. Each time you reach for a cigarette, stop and think: "Do I really need it?" Wait five or ten minutes before acting on your urge to smoke. Smoke less of each cigarette than you normally would. Start to "ration" your cigarettes by carrying only enough to get you through a normal day, and refusing to get more. Every day or two, reduce that amount. Cut down as far as you can. Try delaying your first cigarette of the day or eliminate cigarettes at various other times such as at afternoon break or after supper.
Nicotine replacements like gum and patches can help you with cravings. You use nicotine gum to control cravings one at a time. Patches keep a controlled amount of nicotine in your system at all times for up to three months. Both are available without a prescription. Other medications like bupropion (an antidepressant in pill form that has been found to help people with nicotine withdrawal) can also be effective but they must be prescribed by your doctor and started at least a week before you quit.