Nicotine is the main “psychoactive” ingredient in most tobacco products. Its function is to speed up the communication between the brain and the body and enhance the chemical effect of tobacco products. Nicotine is also the component of tobacco products (and many e-cig products) that causes addiction, which makes it necessary to seek out a nicotine rehab.
When tobacco (such as common cigarettes) is burned, it produces nicotine as well as tar, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals. Cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, and dried tobacco leaves all contain nicotine. E-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco but they can still contain added nicotine.
Smoking cigarettes is the most common method of ingesting nicotine, followed by pipe smoking and chewing tobacco. Upon smoking, the nicotine in the smoke is absorbed rapidly into the blood and can affect the brain in less than a minute. So is nicotine a stimulant or a depressant? The answer isn’t straightforward.
Is Nicotine a Stimulant or Depressant?
Nicotine from chewing tobacco can act as both a stimulant and/or depressant to the central nervous system. Ingestion of nicotine causes the release of the hormones epinephrine and dopamine. This chemical is responsible for the “jolt” users get when smoking. Epinephrine causes increased relaxation and pleasure. Nicotine also stimulates the release of the pain-inhibiting hormone known as beta-endorphin. Seeking this chemical “high” or the corresponding “numbness” is what can lead to addiction.
Stimulants vs. Depressants
Stimulants and depressants come in many forms but both can be found over the counter or in prescription form. Stimulants can be as simple as a cup of coffee or prescriptions for treating serious depression. A stimulant is generally defined as a chemical that gives your body a short-term boost through spurring hormone production that causes an increase in energy or awareness. Stimulants can increase focus, feelings of euphoria, and energy. Some well-known stimulants are caffeine, Adderall, and cocaine.
Depressants are just as easy to find in nature and in the medical world. Depressants slow down brain function, decrease heart rate, and slow respiration. Some natural depressants are tryptophan, omega-3 fatty acids, and lavender. Depressants, such as Valium, may be prescribed to treat insomnia, bipolar or manic disorders, or anxiety.
Why is Nicotine a Stimulant or a Depressant?
Nicotine is unique in the drug world because it can act as both a stimulant or a depressant and it can have different effects on different people. Nicotine can produce a short-term euphoric effect, but can actually worsen depression and anxiety long-term in many people. This drug is particularly dangerous because it can be so unassuming and most of the time the effects don’t seem extreme.
Nicotine can even be a “fallback” drug for people who have struggled with other serious drug addictions, such as cocaine or heroin. However, because of the serious health effects of smoking (the most common way to ingest nicotine), nicotine can actually prove even more dangerous in the long term than some “harder” drugs. For this reason, it’s important to seek out nicotine rehab.
Short-Term Effects of Nicotine Use
The immediate “positive” effects of nicotine can lead you to believe it’s not harmful. Nicotine produces a mild euphoria through the production of hormones dopamine and epinephrine. These can almost instantly make a smoker feel happy, relaxed, and stress-free.
Dopamine can also suppress someone’s appetite and elevate their mood. However, this feeling can be short-lived and a “crash” can come quickly after stopping the use of tobacco. In addition to the crash, our bodies can rapidly become addicted to nicotine and require more and more of it to achieve a similar high.
Nicotine also has negative short-term effects on the brain. Despite the illusion that nicotine helps with relaxation, studies show that nicotine users actually are more stressed out than non-users.
Nicotine also has an immediate negative effect on neurotransmitters. People who consume nicotine regularly have significantly fewer neuro “receptors” than those who don’t. Receptors are the part of the brain that sends and receives chemical messages.
Nicotine also produces an immediate negative effect on the respiratory system. This can include the following symptoms:
- Restricted airway– Smoking even one cigarette can produce enough residual smoke to restrict someone’s airways. This will produce coughing and choking, which may lead to suffocation in extreme cases.
- Increased phlegm production– Inhaling cigarette smoke instantly forces your body to produce more phlegm. In turn, this leads to the increased presence of viruses and bacteria. Any inhaled smoke dries up the mucus membranes in the body, which forces more toxins to be stored in the lungs. This will also increase mucus production and lead to more respiratory infections.
- Increased risk of asthma– Smokers are significantly more likely to develop a respiratory illness, including asthma. Smoking is especially dangerous for those with a history of respiratory illness. Even if someone has smoked for only a short time, their risk of short and long-term asthma attacks is increased by 500% or more.
Long-Term Effects of Nicotine
It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for us. However, this doesn’t stop millions of people around the world from smoking. Smoking-related illnesses are one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
One reason a tobacco habit is so hard to kick is because many users begin smoking as young as age 12. On average, someone who tries a tobacco product in their early teen years will almost always become a full-time “user”.
Most people who begin using tobacco products recreationally don’t understand the addictive nature or the long-term health effects of these products. This is why nicotine is so sneaky and can be so deadly. Casual tobacco use can easily lead to long-term deadly abuse.
In addition to the ease of addiction, nicotine and tobacco products are well known for producing serious health detriments, such as:
- Loss of neuro-receptors– This can slow reaction time, increase lethargy and decrease memory.
- Significant cancer risk increase– Tobacco/nicotine users are significantly more likely to develop many different types of cancer, from lung to brain and everything in between.
- Increase in heart-related illness– Nicotine users are also increasingly at risk for heart disease. This includes heart attack, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and heart failure.
Signs of Nicotine Addiction
Millions of people around the world suffer from nicotine addiction. In fact, in order to continue smoking with knowledge of the negative health repercussions, one must almost certainly have a nicotine addiction. Many people who smoke are in denial about the negative ramifications of doing so and may not admit they have a very real, very dangerous addiction. Some of the most common symptoms of nicotine addiction are:
- Requiring more and more nicotine/tobacco to feel satisfaction
- Needing to smoke or use constantly as to not feel withdrawal symptoms such as irritability
- Using multiple forms of tobacco such as chew and cigarettes
- Wanting to quit but being unable to do so
- Continuing to use tobacco despite potential, serious health risks
Tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, are notoriously difficult to quit. Every box of cigarettes comes with warnings of the imminent health risks. Yet, millions of people choose to ignore those risks every day. The negative feelings of nicotine withdrawal are partly to blame. Some of the physical effects of nicotine withdrawal are as follows:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Increased depression or mania
- Increased irritability, anger, or frustration
- Fluctuations in appetite and weight gain
- Increase in environmental triggers that spur tobacco use
While nicotine is not normally associated with the same level of risk as alcohol or other hard drugs, it can be just as hard to kick and even more deadly. Just because it can’t incapacitate a person to the same extent, it can still kill over time.
Get Help at a Nicotine Rehab
Nicotine addiction has been common in our society for many years, and thankfully so has nicotine addiction treatment. Common treatments for nicotine addiction involve attacking both the physical and psychological dependence on nicotine. Therefore, the most effective nicotine addiction treatments will feature both behavioral and pharmacological approaches to wellness.
Medical treatments for nicotine addiction include “nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as well as the use of medications such as bupropion or varenicline. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can be effective in reducing cravings and the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The medications mentioned can help curb the physical dependence on nicotine and help ease the psychological effects of withdrawal.
Nicotine Addiction Therapy
Behavioral approaches to nicotine addiction treatment include CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), individual and group therapy, and different 12-step programs. The best treatments for nicotine addiction will incorporate two or more of these effective options and will be tailored to the individual.
Social support gained through participation in 12-step programs, family support, and counseling is also a critical factor in overcoming nicotine dependence. A nicotine rehab can show individuals how to lead a life free from addiction.