What Psychologists Want You To Know About Smoking Addiction

Of the many harmful chemicals found in a piece of cigarette smoke and tobacco, nicotine is the primary substance responsible for addiction. It acts to increase the amount of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is in charge of the reward pathway. Its design is to reward the body with pleasurable feelings for essential behaviors that are vital for human survival. Psychologists believe that too much use of tobacco or cigarette can cause repeated dopamine surges due to its nicotine content. With this particular process, it desensitizes the reward pathway system, making it less responsive to daily stimuli.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), nearly 68 percent of adult cigarette smokers want to quit smoking, but they often don’t feel confident in their ability to do so, especially if they have made previous attempts to quit. — Amy Copeland, Ph.D.

How The Addiction Functions

As the body’s system adapts to the continually increasing levels of dopamine, the body becomes dependent on nicotine. Therefore, to get the same pleasurable effects, more and more nicotine gets required. However, nicotine is not the only harmful substance to blame for a cigarette or tobacco addiction. Because at the very least, acetaldehyde is also responsible for nicotine dependence. Tobacco smokers who inhale absorb it as quickly as cigarette smokers. However, depending on the size of the tobacco or cigarette smoke, the chemical content can be higher.

Aside from that, the genetic makeup seems to play a role in addiction susceptibility. Meaning, some individuals become prone to dependence compared to others when exposed to nicotine. That explains why when these people become addicted, they become less able to quit. And since many genes are more likely to get involved, the brain responds differently.

The development of tobacco or cigarette addiction depends on the amount and speed of the brain’s nicotine absorption.  The chemicals get through the brain in seconds with just single smoke inhalation. It immediately results in a rewarding effect. And because smoking only allows a minute of pleasure, individuals light up more to feel the same satisfaction. With that, the buildup of a functioning aggressive reward pathway becomes present in the brain.

In general, people start smoking as teenagers and continue the habit into adulthood as a way to help them relax or cope with life’s pressures. Those in chronic pain may start or continue to smoke because they believe it helps alleviate the stress and discomfort associated with their condition. — Scott Dehorty MSW, LCSW-C

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In addition to the physiological basis, experts explain that there are behavioral factors that also strengthen smoking addiction. It includes the habit of lighting a piece of cigarette, taking a puff every after a meal, smoking due to boredom, and socializing with other smokers. These are all associated with the rewarding effect and are the reasons why it seems hard to break the habit.

It is no secret that tobacco and cigarette smoking is one of the leading cause of premature deaths. That is due to its association with specific lung diseases and cancers. But what adds to the alarm is consuming it with or without direct puff increase risk of cardiovascular diseases. It means it can become the source of strokes and heart attacks.

Another thing that people should watch out is the habit of smoking when pregnant or exhaling smoke near a pregnant woman. That is due to the oxygen deprivation to the fetus, which eventually causes fetal growth retardation. The nicotine and other harmful chemicals in the tobacco or cigarette can cross the placenta and affect the fetal circulation. It creates learning and behavioral issues in the child. In most unfortunate cases, it has the potential to increase infant deaths.

Handling The Addiction

Smoking cessation produces withdrawal symptoms. These include irritability, cravings, attention deficit, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and increased appetite. These psychological effects become the reason why a lot of smokers are having a hard time quitting the habit. Most of them can’t handle the withdrawal symptoms and when they force to stop it, the harder it gets.

However, treatment for cigarette and tobacco addiction is possible. Some experts use behavioral therapies partnered with nicotine replacements. Samples of these are nicotine gums and patches. The use of these medicinal counterparts promotes low addiction potential. It reduces toxicity associated with other harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke and tobacco products. It helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms as well.

…knowing the specific predictors of early relapse in people who are quitting smoking may be useful so that professionals planning smoking interventions can do a better job of targeting the most important factors. — Adi Jaffe Ph.D.

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Cutting off the smoking habit is entirely hard to do, particularly to those individuals who started it in their early years. It requires an extensive amount of motivation and encouragement to decide not to light or puff a piece. It needs proper guidance and clinical evaluation too. But once individuals recognize the importance of not smoking, they will soon appreciate how the mind and body function.