According to a 2019 study, over 34.1 million adults smoked cigarettes in the US. That’s about 14% of the population (18 or older). However, this has declined from 2005 rates, which saw nearly 21% of the adult population in America smoking cigarettes.
A more alarming statistic is that 1 in 5 deaths in the US is attributed to smoking tobacco, with over 480,000 deaths per year. If we know for a fact that cigarettes and smoking, in general, are so deadly, then why do people smoke in the first place?
The reality is that smoking is highly addictive. Studies show that tobacco or nicotine dependence is even more powerful and addictive than alcohol, cocaine, and opioids. Let’s discuss why smoking is so addictive and what you can do to stop once and for all.
Why is Smoking Addictive?
There are a few reasons why smoking is so addictive, but the main reason is nicotine.
Nicotine and The Brain’s Reward Center
Smoking is addictive because it involves the consumption of nicotine, a substance that stimulates the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. When you inhale the nicotine from smoking, it quickly enters the bloodstream and the brain.
Nicotine causes endorphins, mainly dopamine, to be released in your brain. This brain chemical causes pleasure, joy, relaxation, anxiety, and stress relief. Your brain receives a dopamine spike from smoking tobacco, as well as vaping nicotine.
Dopamine conditions the brain to want more, and it searches for that dopamine rush. The issue with dopamine is that the more that is artificially created through smoking and consuming nicotine (or any other drug that causes dopamine spikes), the less of it your brain produces on its own.
This means that as you smoke more, your brain makes less dopamine, which means that you need to continuously smoke more over time to get that same rewarding feeling. This is known as tolerance. The more you smoke over time, the more you need to smoke to achieve that same effect – a vicious cycle. This is why smoking is so addictive. Once you feel that initial dopamine rush, your brain will keep chasing for more.
How Powerful Is an Addiction to Nicotine?
Roughly two out of every three smokers say that they want to quit smoking. Moreover, studies show that about half all smokers say that they try to quit smoking each year without success. These studies also show that quitting smoking may be more difficult than quitting an alcohol or cocaine addiction.
For reference, these studies show that 40% of people who attempt to quit consuming both opiates and cocaine are successful. On that same note, 18% of people who tried to stop drinking alcohol are also successful. However, only 8% of nicotine addicts are successful in quitting. This demonstrates just how powerful nicotine is.
Why Quitting Smoking Is So Hard: Nicotine Withdrawal
Heavy smokers rely on that dopamine rush produced by inhaling large quantities of nicotine. When the brain no longer gets that nicotine, dopamine levels plummet. This results in both physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.
Dopamine is a brain chemical that causes feelings of pleasure, reward, stress and anxiety relief. The absence of nicotine and large amounts of dopamine can result in anxiety, stress, depression, irritability, anger, and other feelings.
These are the mental withdrawal symptoms of quitting nicotine. Still, there are also physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, headaches, increased appetite, tiredness, weight gain, a slower heart rate, coughing, dry mouth, sore throat, gassiness, constipation, and chest tightness.
Tips to Help Quit a Nicotine Addiction
There are different options for people who want to stop smoking. Some of the most common quitting methods include NRT or nicotine replacement therapies.
However, this doesn’t solve the issue of nicotine addiction itself. When you quit all forms of nicotine, you will have cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Here are some tips on how to control those cravings so you don’t give in to them.
- Having someone going through the same process to talk to for support always helps.
- The lack of nicotine and dopamine can cause stress, so to avoid being triggered by smoke, avoiding stressful situations is recommended.
- A great idea to replace that missing dopamine rush is to exercise. That so-called runner’s high, a dopamine release from exercise, will help reduce cravings and improve your mood.
- Whether exercise or otherwise, having distractions can help you overcome your nicotine cravings as well.
- You should avoid anything that triggers an urge to smoke. For instance, many people smoke while they drink coffee. If you are trying to quit smoking, having that coffee will also tempt you to smoke.
- Some programs or courses can teach you how to quit once and for all. For example, Hypnosis can help someone people quit smoking.
Smoking Addictions – Final Thoughts
There are also group therapies, therapeutic options, and even medications that can help eliminate cravings. You aren’t alone in your journey to quit smoking.
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