Posts Tagged ‘nicotine withdrawal’

by Douglas Smith

There are probably as many ways to quit smoking, as there are smokers in the world. Many smokers have good intentions to quit smoking, but just cannot seem to succeed. Those non-smokers, who look at smokers as failures, when they are unable to quit, do not understand the situation. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug found in cigarettes, which the smoker needs and craves constantly. Quitting an addiction is not even in the same class as, say, quitting biting your nails or popping your gum. It is difficult to quit smoking, and there are several main ways that most people seem to try.

The first way to quit smoking is to quit cold turkey. It is not known what a turkey has to do with it. To quit smoking cold turkey means to abruptly quit smoking cigarettes. Once the smoker quits smoking cold turkey, the goal is to never smoke another cigarette again. No drugs or medical aids are used when a person quits smoking cigarettes cold turkey. Fierce willpower, and maybe someone the smoker can call when the urge gets too strong, is required to do this.

Some smokers use nicotine gums and patches to help them quit smoking. These nicotine patches replace the nicotine the smoker normally gets from the cigarette. The idea is to wean the smoker off of cigarettes by gradually using patches containing less nicotine. This technique to quit smoking sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach. However, critics claim that nicotine patches merely prolong the painful nicotine withdrawal period. Each smoker and his doctor will have to decide for him or herself whether the nicotine patch is right for him.

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There are other alternative methods people use to quit smoking cigarettes. Hypnotism is a popular method with varied effectiveness. The hypnotist places the smoker into a highly suggestive state, and convinces the smoker that he or she no longer needs cigarettes. The effectiveness of hypnotism in quitting smoking is questionable, however. The results are almost impossible to reproduce in a laboratory setting, and the effectiveness varies with the skill of each hypnotist.

It is far more difficult to quit smoking than non-smokers think. For reasons only they understand (and sometimes even they don’t), smokers have become addicted to the potent and dangerous drug nicotine. Some experts suggest that nicotine is as addictive, or more addictive, than many illegal drugs. The effort to quit smoking is a healthy one, whichever method is chosen. Once the body is free of cigarettes for a while, it begins repairing the damage of years or even decades of smoking. That’s why people who want to quit smoking should keep trying as many times as it takes to succeed.

You initially become addicted to cigarettes because of the fast action of nicotine on the pleasure centers of your brain. When you puff on a cigarette, the nicotine in your lungs enters your blood stream and within 15 to 20 seconds begins to work on your brain.

Once in your brain, nicotine binds to receptors that are intended for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This binding causes a change in the cell walls that allow calcium or sodium ions to enter the cell. After that, a number of additional brain neurotransmitters are released.

These neurotransmitters affect your mood and behavior. The neurotransmitter dopamine affects the reward center that causes feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Serotonin helps moderate your mood and controls your appetite. GABA produces a calming effect that reduces anxiety.

Smoking is a means of artificially spiking the acetylcholine system resulting in feelings of pleasure, calmness, and a moderation of your mood. Because of these positive effects and the speed with which they are associated with nicotine intake (taking a puff) smoking is highly addictive.

As an occasional or social smoker, you may begin to use cigarettes as a means of coping with life’s daily stresses. You switch from social smoking to daily smoking. Once you begin smoking several cigarettes a day, nicotine is constantly stimulating your brain, 24 hours a day. You are psychologically addicted to the positive effects of nicotine.

Over a period of several years a transition begins to take place in the addiction mechanism.

Your brain adapts to the frequent presence of nicotine. Your brain physically changes by increasing the nicotine receptor concentration. This requires more nicotine for your brain to function properly. That is, your brain now becomes dependent on nicotine for normal functions. This adaptation produces tolerance for nicotine.

When your brain is unable to get the required amount of nicotine, you experience withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms include irritability, restlessness, difficulty in getting along with family and friends, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, hunger, difficulty concentrating, and lethargy.

Half the nicotine in your body is metabolized and broken down every 2 hours. As your nicotine level declines, the withdrawal symptoms set in. The only way to relieve the withdrawal symptoms is with another dose of nicotine. You now smoke, not for pleasure, but to eliminate withdrawal symptoms.

As an addicted cigarette smoker, you often need your first dose of nicotine as soon as possible in the morning. Many smokers take their first puffs within 5 minutes of awakening.

Throughout the day, you need additional doses of nicotine every couple of hours. You are often willing to leave the comfort of a smoke-free environment to stand in the freezing cold, rain, or sweltering heat to get your next dose of nicotine. You are definitely in the second stage of nicotine addiction.

Overall, your smoking addiction started out as a psychologically addiction to the positive effects of nicotine on your brain. But, because the brain adapts to nicotine, your smoking addiction winds up as a means of preventing the negative effects of withdrawal symptoms.


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