Smoking Addiction

According to the NHS, smoking is the major cause of preventable deaths in England, resulting in over 8,000 fatalities annually. Most UK adults are aware of the physical effects of smoking, but few know about the effects it has on mental health. The brain responds to nicotine the same way it does other substances that trigger dopamine and serotonin levels.

Initially, nicotine helps to reduce feelings of anger, reduce appetite, as well as improve concentration and mood. Sadly, regular intake of nicotine changes the levels of brain chemicals, leading to withdrawal symptoms when you quit smoking. While many young people begin smoking as an experiment, there are psychological factors that keep you dependent on nicotine. You’re more likely to smoke if you live in poverty, abuse alcohol (and other addictive substances) or live in an environment where smoking is normal.

Understanding Smoking Addiction

Many adults claim to smoke because it helps to reduce stress and believe they can quit whenever they want to. However, statistics from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention show that only 40% (out of 70% of smokers who want to quit) try to achieve their recovery goals each year. Notably, only 4% are successful. The figures indicate that smoking addiction is a bigger problem than you think – and just like with other addictions, you might need professional help to overcome this habit.

A powerful alkaloid, nicotine is the main compound in tobacco that makes it difficult to quit smoking. It acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, triggering a range of biochemical reactions that elicit feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and pleasure.

As time goes by, you’ll need to smoke more of cigarettes to feel the original effects of nicotine in your body. This is the stage of tolerance, which is superseded by dependence. At this stage, you’re physically dependent on a daily intake of cigarettes to function properly. Subsequently, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Nicotine addiction: The Science behind it Explained

Nicotine is classified as a stimulant, as it accelerates several processes in the human body, adding unhealthy levels of stress. Long-term smokers who’ve tried to quit know how difficult this task is. When you go for several hours – or up to a day – without a cigarette, you’ll feel an uncomfortable, intense craving that feels like an itch you absolutely have to scratch. Nicotine accounts for the physical aspect of addiction, while the habitual nature of smoking explains the psychological aspect of addiction.

Nicotine addiction depends on the presence of nicotine in tobacco products. Nicotine is a colorless or yellowish liquid, used as pesticides and tobacco stimulants. There is a high potential for abuse. High doses carry many risks, such as lung disease, brain damage, aging skin, coronary heart disease, and increased risk of stroke and stomach cancer. Nicotine has mood-altering compounds that provide a pleasing, temporary ‘high’ that reinforces nicotine use. When you try to quit, you might attempt to use nicotine to reduce the severity of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, which drags you right back into the circle of addiction.

Signs and symptoms of smoking addiction

Most people who are addicted to smoking are comfortable living in denial because they believe they’re social smokers, who can quit when they desire. Signs of smoking addiction include:

  • You smoke even when you’re sick
  • You need tobacco to feel satisfaction
  • You’re unable to quit smoking on your own
  • You have a strong desire to smoke in public places, where smoking isn’t allowed
  • You’re aware of the health risks associated with tobacco use, yet continue smoking
  • You experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit
  • You experience intense cravings when you go a short while without smoking
  • You continuously increase each dose of nicotine intake
  • You’ve cut back on social activities because of nicotine use

Why smoking is addictive

Nicotine targets the reward center of the brain, releasing dopamine chemicals every time you take a drag of your cigarette. Dopamine makes you crave nicotine and long-term use leads to addiction. It takes only ten seconds for nicotine to reach your brain and it’s immediately transported to other parts of your body. The feeling is extremely pleasurable, but lasts only a short while, which reinforces craving to in turn continue smoking.

The hormones released by your body change when you smoke. Your body has to readjust when you quit, which causes a period of hormonal imbalance known as withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal is harder for some than others. Studies show that it’s harder for teenagers (who are more sensitive to nicotine) than adults.

General dangers of smoking

When you smoke, the tar contains poison that enters your bloodstream, leading to problems such as heart attack; clot formation; reduced oxygen circulation to your organs; and increased blood pressure. Smoking also increases the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, damaged arteries and blood vessels.

Your lungs are also affected when you smoke. It begins with colds, asthma, wheezing and coughs, but develops into fatal conditions such as emphysema, pneumonia and lung cancer. Figures from the NHS show that smoking causes 83% of deaths from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and 84% of fatalities from lung cancer.

Smoking addiction and the brain

Smokers are more likely to experience a stroke than non-smokers, increasing the risk by 50%. Smoking increases the chances of a brain aneurysm, caused by weak blood vessels that rupture and sometimes lead to death. The risk of stroke reduces by 50% within two years after you quit smoking. Within five years, it is the same as a non-smoker.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Smoking Addiction: Facts and Statistics

In the UK, one in five adults smoke and there are 90,000 regular smokers between the ages of 11 to 15.

  • In the past 20 years, the number of smokers has reduced by 30%.
  • 66% of smokers started before the age of 18 and 83% before the age of 20.
  • 37% of smokers tried to quit in 2014, but only 19% were successful.
  • Three out of five e-cigarette users are current smokers.

Treating smoking addiction

Medical professionals treat nicotine addiction with a combination of pharmacology and psychotherapy. There are nicotine-free products that can help you quit and ensure you don’t relapse. Medications include Bupropion and Varenicline to reduce cravings and ease physical withdrawal symptoms.

The effectiveness of therapy depends on your willingness to quit. When combined with nicotine replacement therapy, counselling services will treat both the physical and psychological aspects of nicotine addiction.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Cravings
  • Tingling in the feet and hands
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Coughing
  • Headaches

Nicotine Replacement Therapy for Treatment of Nicotine Addiction (non-prescription)

Nicotine replacement therapy is effective in helping smokers quit cigarettes when used properly. Two products that can be obtained without a prescription include:

Nicotine chewing gum: The most popular product here is Nicorette, an FDA-approved treatment for nicotine addiction. Scientific evidence shows this is a safe way to quit smoking. Start with 4mg gum if you smoked up to 25 cigarettes a day and 2mg if you smoke seven or less. Weaning begins two to three months in and you should stop using the gum within six months.

Nicotine Lozenge (Commit): This is a tablet that dissolves in your mouth and is similar to the gum. It is available in 2mg and 4mg doses. You can take one lozenge every few hours and no more than 20 a day for a total duration of six weeks.

Prescription Nicotine: Replacement Products

Chantix: This FDA approved medication does not contain nicotine but acts on the same receptors that reinforce nicotine use. You start taking Chantix one week before the date you’ve set to quit smoking and it shouldn’t be used for more than 12 weeks. This drug is not advised for individuals with chronic medical conditions and breastfeeding women.

Nicotine nasal spray: Nicotine from this product is absorbed into your nostrils and transported through your veins, heart, and brain. The ideal duration to use this product is three months (and a maximum of six months).

Nicotine Inhaler: When you puff on the inhaler, it gives off nicotine vapours in your mouth. It enters your bloodstream via your mouth and travels to your brain to relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Counselling, Support Groups and Smoking Cessation Programmes

Addiction to nicotine is one of the hardest to recover from. Therefore, you might need help to make the process easier. There are nicotine addiction helplines you can call, as well as local support group meetings and cessation programmes. Alternatively, you could enroll in a nicotine rehabilitation programme, where a team of specialists will help you find proactive ways to quit smoking permanently.

Tips to Stop Smoking and Kick Your Cigarette Habit for Good

When you decide to quit smoking, the first step is to create your personal ‘Stop smoking’ plan. A few questions to lead with include:

  • Do you smoke heavily?
  • Is a cigarette the first thing you reach for when you’re feeling stressed?
  • Are there activities you associate with smoking?

Once you’ve answered these questions, set a ‘quit date’ within the foreseeable future (not longer than a month); tell your loved ones and work colleagues about your plan to quit; anticipate challenges ahead; remove nicotine products from your home, workplace and car. Finally, speak to a specialist who can suggest replacement therapies to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

Manage cigarette cravings

A few tips to manage cigarette cravings include:

  • Find activities to keep you busy and distracted from thoughts of smoking.
  • Keep a shortlist of the major reasons you chose to quit. It will help you stay motivated.
  • Stay hydrated; it helps with cravings and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • Avoid triggers and temptations.
  • Find other things to keep your mouth busy, such as mints, gum, celery sticks or sunflower seeds.
  • Keep your hands busy when you feel like holding a cigarette. You could squeeze paper clips, pencils or balls.
  • Reward yourself when you reach a milestone.

Preventing weight gain after you stop smoking

Smoking suppresses appetite, which explains why you worry about gaining weight when you quit smoking. While you might add weight after you quit, it’s usually minimal and decreases over time. A few tips to help prevent weight gain include:

Find new ways to soothe yourself when you feel stressed. Instead of smoking or stress-eating, drink a cup of chamomile tea, read a book, listen to upbeat music or go for a run.

Eat healthy, nutritious food that contains healthy fat, fruits and vegetables. Avoid sodas, fries and unhealthy takeouts.

Be aware of the food you eat. Don’t eat in front of the TV or use your phone when eating. It’s easier to focus on the quantity of food you eat if there are no distractions.

Keep healthy snacks in the refrigerator. Options include carrots, jicama, sugar-free gum, salads and more.

Helping a loved one to stop smoking

You can’t force a loved one who is dependent on cigarettes to give up smoking. The decision has to be theirs, but when they quit, you’ll be there to offer support and suggestions to reduce withdrawal and difficulty of quitting. You can join them on a run, help to take their mind off cigarettes by offering a celery stick and continued support even when they relapse.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.

Helping a teen to quit

  • Do not use threats and ultimatums, as this never works on teenagers.
  • Be supportive and patient, letting them know they can talk to you about factors that led them to smoke.
  • Do not smoke yourself and ensure they know that smoking is not allowed at home. Parents who smoke are more likely to have children who’ll also take up the habit.
  • Discuss the dangers of smoking with them.


Why is quitting so hard?

Cigarettes contain nicotine that when inhaled, releases feel-good dopamine chemicals in the brain and reinforces smoking. Smokers also experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit. Your body has adjusted to the presence of nicotine to feel normal and it will take a while to readjust and learn to function without nicotine in the brain.

Can Patients in Drug Treatment Quit Smoking Successfully?

80% of substance abusers who enter an addiction treatment programme want to quit smoking as well. Scientific research shows that it’s possible to quit smoking whilst receiving addiction treatment.

Why Is Quitting Smoking Important?

It’s important to quit smoking because it destroys your physical health and also negatively impacts mental health. Medical issues such as a cough, oral cavity, breathing problems and gastrointestinal problems reduce after you quit smoking. Your breath is fresher, you’re happier and you don’t feel the innate need to begin your day with a cigarette. All the risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and abdominal aortic also reduce.

Why do people smoke?

A few reasons why people smoke include: growing up around family members who smoke and condone smoking; peer pressure; trying to lose weight; making up for poor social skills; environmental factors; and trying to copy what is ‘cool’ in current pop culture.

What problems are caused by smoking?

There are roughly 484,000 fatalities from smoking every year. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, stroke, heart attack, cardiovascular issues and other cancer types. It is a preventable disease that causes severe respiratory problems. Smokers are likely to die ten years before a non-smoker.

What are the symptoms and signs of cigarette addiction?

  • Smoking when you wake up in the morning
  • Strong desire to smoke in public places
  • Smoking up to seven cigarettes a day

Can second-hand smoke from e-cigs cause harm?

The fluid composition in some e-cigarette cartridges contains nitrosamines or dangerous chemicals when expelled. It also contains nicotine. Further studies need to be conducted to determine the risk to the health of individuals who breathe in secondhand smoke.

What are the steps involved in quitting?

  • Set a date to quit, but ensure it’s within the next month.
  • What are those things you do whilst smoking? Change your habits to notice when and why you smoke.
  • Buy a pack of cigarettes you dislike.
  • Wait a few minutes before smoking. In the interim, drink a glass of water or try an activity that takes your mind off smoking.

How Long Should You Use Nicotine Replacement Therapy?

Nicotine patches are available in three strengths and should only be worn for a maximum of eight to ten weeks, depending on the strength of the initial patch used. Nicotine gum should be used for a total period of four to six months.

What is the outlook for tobacco and nicotine addiction?

The proportion of smokers has dropped, because healthcare workers have been very active in publicising the effects of smoking on physical and mental health, as well as helping to push bills limiting public smoking. Although teen smoking rates remain an issue, few people pick up the habit after the age of 25 years. Only a small number of individuals who started smoking in their teens become nicotine addicts.

What prescription products are available for giving up smoking?

Some prescription-only medications to quit smoking include Varenicline, an FDA-approved medication that doesn’t contain nicotine, but works on the same receptors. The second is Bupropion, an anti-depressant found to be effective in smoking cessation.

How can products that contain nicotine be used safely?

When using products that contain nicotine, it’s important to understand all the medical effects you might experience with smoking. They include heart disease, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. You should also be aware of the interactions nicotine products might have with medications, as well as their limitations. Read the labels; don’t smoke if you’re pregnant, nursing an infant or if you have any medical conditions.

What are e-cigarettes and are they harmful?

E-cigarettes (‘e-cigs’) are refillable containers that contain different flavours, solvents and varying levels of nicotine. It is known as ‘vaping’ when you smoke an e-cigarette. There’s insufficient information on the effects of e-cigs. All products that contain nicotine are addictive – even e-cigs.

Get Confidential Help Now

Call our admissions line 24 hours a day to get help.