DrugFacts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products

 

Using tobacco can lead to a very hard addiction to kick. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes the affect of tobacco on the brain, health and types of treatments.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking results in more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year—about 1 in every 5 U.S. deaths—and an additional 16 million people suffer with a serious illness caused by smoking. In fact, for every one person who dies from smoking, about 30 more suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness.

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How Does Tobacco Affect the Brain?

Similar to other addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin, nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure. For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction—a condition of compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative consequences.  Studies suggest that additional compounds in tobacco smoke, such as acetaldehyde, may enhance nicotine’s effects on the brain.3

When an addicted user tries to quit, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms including irritability, attention difficulties, sleep disturbances, increased appetite, and powerful cravings for tobacco. Treatments can help smokers manage these symptoms and improve the likelihood of successfully quitting.

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What Other Adverse Effects Does Tobacco Have on Health?

Although nicotine is addictive and can be toxic if ingested in high doses, it does not cause cancer—other chemicals are responsible for most of the severe health consequences of tobacco use. Tobacco smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals such as carbon monoxide, tar, formaldehyde, cyanide, and ammonia—many of which are known carcinogens. Carbon monoxide increases the chance of cardiovascular diseases. Tar exposes the user to an increased risk of lung cancer, emphysema, and bronchial disorders.

Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25–30 percent and lung cancer by 20–30 percent.7  In addition; secondhand smoke causes health problems in both adults and children, such as coughing, overproduction of phlegm, reduced lung function and respiratory infections, including pneumonia and bronchitis.. Each year about 150,000 – 300,000 children younger than 18 months old experience respiratory tract infections caused by secondhand smoke.7  Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of ear infections, severe asthma, respiratory infections and death. In fact, more than 100,000 babies have died in the past 50 years from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and other health complications as a result of parental smoking.8 Children who grow up with parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers, thus placing themselves (and their future families) at risk for the same health problems as their parents when they become adults.

Although quitting can be difficult, the health benefits of smoking cessation are immediate and substantial—including reduced risk for cancers, heart disease, and stroke. A 35-year-old man who quits smoking will, on average, increase his life expectancy by 5 years.

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Are There Effective Treatments for Tobacco Addiction?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) has established a national toll-free quitline, 800-QUIT-NOW, to serve as an access point for any smoker seeking information and assistance in quitting.  NIDA’s scientists are looking at ways to make smoking cessation easier by developing tools to make behavioral support available over the internet or through text-based messaging. In addition, NIDA is developing strategies designed to help vulnerable or hard-to-reach populations quit smoking.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments employ a variety of methods to help smokers  quit, ranging from self-help materials to counseling. These interventions teach people to recognize high-risk situations and develop coping strategies to deal with them.

Nicotine Replacement Treatments

Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) were the first pharmacological treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in smoking cessation therapy. Current FDA-approved NRT products include nicotine chewing gum, the nicotine transdermal patch, nasal sprays, inhalers, and lozenges.  NRTs deliver a controlled dose of nicotine to a smoker in order to relieve withdrawal symptoms during the smoking cessation process. They are most successful when used in combination with behavioral treatments.

Current Treatment Research

Scientists are currently developing new smoking cessation therapies. For example, they are working on a nicotine vaccine, which would block nicotine’s reinforcing effects by causing the immune system to bind to nicotine in the bloodstream preventing it from reaching the brain. In addition, some medications already in use might work better if they are used together. Scientists are looking for ways to  target several relapse symptoms at the same time—like withdrawal, craving and depression.

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Read more here.

If you would like more information about quitting smoking, please contact Bridgeway Behavioral Health at www.bridgewaybh.com or call us at 866-758-1152.

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