The Intervention Guide

Nicotine Addiction: The Dangers, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Nicotine addiction is an addiction to cigarettes or other tobacco products. Dependence on the drug means that you are unable to stop using the substance, even though it is causing harm. Nicotine addiction is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the United States, causing more than 440,000 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Addiction to nicotine can have many adverse effects. Smoking causes multiple types of cancer, including throat cancer and lung cancer. Clinical studies have shown that smoking increases the heart rate and blood pressure, causing unnecessary physiological strain. Long-term use of tobacco products can lead to many other health problems, such as blood clots, circulatory problems and many cardiovascular conditions. These are just a few of the serious outcomes that can occur due to smoking.


There are more than 4,000 different chemicals in cigarette smoke. Nicotine is the best known and is primarily responsible for the addictive nature of tobacco and cigarettes. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical and is found in most types of tobacco products. It increases the release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which help to moderate behavior and mood. The primary neurotransmitter affected by nicotine is dopamine, which is responsible for good feelings and associated with other addictions. Nicotine dependence is related to a combination of behavioral and physical factors. Behaviors that you may associate with smoking include drinking alcohol, talking on the phone, driving, the smell of a burning cigarette, certain friends or locations, after a meal or a certain time of the day.


Even a small amount of nicotine can lead to addiction in some people. Signs that you may be addicted are if you are unable to stop smoking after one or more serious attempts. You may experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop, such as strong cravings, irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, frustrations, depressed mood, insomnia, anger, diarrhea or increased hunger. Another sign that you may be addicted is if you continue to smoke despite having developed health problems. You may stop certain recreational activities or seeing certain people because you are unable to smoke in these situations. Finally, continuing to smoke, despite relationship and financial consequence is a sign of an addiction to nicotine.


Many people with nicotine addiction have made serious attempts to stop. Stopping is important and will benefit your health almost immediately. Many medications have been proven to be safe and effective in treating nicotine addiction. Nicotine replacement therapy provides individuals seeking treatment with nicotine without the other harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke. Nicotine replacement medications, such as gum, patches, inhalers, lozenges and nasal sprays can relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms. There are several non-nicotine medications available by prescription. Some of these include the antidepressant drug bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin), varenicline (Chantix) and nortriptyline (Pamelor).


This page last update: September 19, 2013

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