Why is tobacco so addictive?
Nicotine addiction is very complex and highly individual. Many smokers continue to use tobacco even though they wish they could stop. Most people who smoke want to quit and have tried to quit. Nicotine is so addictive that many people continue to smoke even when their lives are in immediate danger.
Nicotine acts on the brain and affects mood, alertness and concentration. Addiction to tobacco (nicotine) is not immediate. It may take weeks or months to develop. People who begin smoking when they are teens tend to be more dependent than those who start smoking after age 20.
Most smokers use nicotine compulsively. Very few people can smoke occasionally. Seventy percent to 90% of regular users are addicted. Compared to other addictive substances that rate is very high. For example, 77% of Albertans use alcohol but only 2.7% report a level of use suggestive of alcohol dependence. Nicotine is a “reinforcer.” Many smokers keep smoking to avoid withdrawal.
Smoking gives pleasure: from simple tactile and oral pleasure of handling and drawing on a cigarette to the comfort of a quick fix in times of anxiety, anger and other stress.
Initially, social pressure may lead addiction to develop. Once addicted, there are fewer external pressures to quit than there are with other addictions. Smokers are not in immediate danger of losing their jobs or families due to their addiction. More dangerous health effects are not obvious in the beginning.
Successful quitting requires support. Most smokers fail when they try to quit without the help of programs or therapies.
* Nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
* 33% to 50% of people who experiment with cigarettes become regular users.
* 70% to 90% of people who are regular users are addicted to nicotine.
* Relapse rates for quitters are high: about 60% relapse in three months, and 75% in six months.
* Relapse is the rule, not the exception, and must be viewed as part of the quitting process.
* Withdrawal symptoms include depression, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, decreased heart rate, increased appetite, weight gain and craving for nicotine.