Nicotine dependence occurs when you need nicotine and can't stop using it. Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that makes it hard to quit. Nicotine produces pleasing effects in your brain, but these effects are temporary. So you reach for another cigarette.
The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good. When you try to stop, you experience unpleasant mental and physical changes. These are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Regardless of how long you've smoked, stopping can improve your health. It isn't easy but you can break your dependence on nicotine. Many effective treatments are available. Ask your doctor for help.
For some people, using any amount of tobacco can quickly lead to nicotine dependence. Signs that you may be addicted include:
You're not alone if you've tried to stop smoking but haven't been able to stop for good. Most smokers make many attempts to stop smoking before they achieve stable, long-term abstinence from smoking.
You're more likely to stop for good if you follow a treatment plan that addresses both the physical and the behavioral aspects of nicotine dependence. Using medications and working with a counselor specially trained to help people stop smoking (a tobacco treatment specialist) will significantly boost your chances of success.
Ask your health care team to help you develop a treatment plan that works for you or to advise you on where to get help to stop smoking.
Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking. Nicotine reaches the brain within seconds of taking a puff. In the brain, nicotine increases the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which help regulate mood and behavior.
Dopamine, one of these neurotransmitters, is released in the reward center of the brain and causes feelings of pleasure and improved mood.
The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good. Nicotine quickly becomes part of your daily routine and intertwined with your habits and feelings.
Common situations that trigger the urge to smoke include:
To overcome your nicotine dependence, you need to become aware of your triggers and make a plan for dealing with them.
Anyone who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is at risk of becoming dependent. Factors that influence who will use tobacco include:
Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 known cancer-causing chemicals and thousands of other harmful substances. Even "all natural" or herbal cigarettes have harmful chemicals.
You already know that people who smoke cigarettes are much more likely to develop and die of certain diseases than people who don't smoke. But you may not realize just how many different health problems smoking causes:
Smoking also poses health risks to those around you. Nonsmoking spouses and partners of smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer and heart disease compared with people who don't live with a smoker. Children whose parents smoke are more prone to worsening asthma, ear infections and colds.
The best way to prevent nicotine dependence is to not use tobacco in the first place.
The best way to keep children from smoking is to not smoke yourself. Research has shown that children whose parents do not smoke or who successfully quit smoking are much less likely to take up smoking.
Your doctor may ask you questions or have you fill out a questionnaire to see how dependent you are on nicotine. Knowing your degree of dependence will help your doctor determine the right treatment plan for you. The more cigarettes you smoke each day and the sooner you smoke after awakening, the more dependent you are.
Like most smokers, you've probably made at least one serious attempt to stop. But it's rare to stop smoking on your first attempt — especially if you try to do it without help. You're much more likely to be able to stop smoking if you use medications and counseling, which have both been proved effective, especially in combination.
Some quit-smoking products are known as nicotine replacement therapy because they contain varying amounts of nicotine. Some of these nicotine replacement therapies require a prescription, but others don't. There are two approved quit-smoking medications that don't contain nicotine, and both are available only by prescription.
Any of these products can help reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms — making it more likely that you'll stop smoking for good. Using more than one may help you get better results.
Although you can buy some quit-smoking products without a prescription, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor first. Together you can explore which products might be right for you, when to start taking them and possible side effects.
Medications help you cope by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while behavioral treatments help you develop the skills you need to give up tobacco for good. The more time you spend with a counselor, the better your treatment results will be.
During individual or group counseling, you learn techniques you can use to help you stop smoking. Many hospitals, health care plans, health care providers and employers offer treatment programs. Some medical centers provide residential treatment programs — the most intensive treatment available.
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have not proved to be safe nor are they more effective in helping people stop smoking than nicotine replacement medications. In fact, many people who use e-cigarettes to stop smoking find themselves using both products rather than quitting.
It's not a good idea to substitute another type of tobacco use for smoking. Tobacco in any form is not safe. Steer clear of these products:
Social support is key to achieving a stable and solid, smoke-free life. Ask your family, friends and co-workers for support and encouragement. Be direct and let them know what would help you most.
Also consider trying these resources:
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
To get ready for your appointment:
Being ready to answer questions your doctor may ask reserves time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Some questions your doctor may ask include:
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