nicotine head rush
A nicotine high may last for less than two hours after your last cigarette.

Nicotine high may last for less than two hours after your last cigarette. Two hours after ingesting nicotine, the body will have lost roughly half of it (nicotine half-life).

Because nicotine has a short half-life, the immediate effects fade quickly, and you quickly feel the need for another dose.

  • Nicotine alters the chemical balance in your brain. It primarily affects the chemicals dopamine and noradrenaline.
  • Nicotine, like other addictive drugs, causes the release of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. It causes mood-altering changes that make you feel better for a short period.
  • Inhaled nicotine delivers nicotine to the brain in less than 20 seconds, making it highly addictive in the same way that opioids, alcohol, and cocaine do.
  • This rush is a key component of the addictive process. Nicotine influences the hormone epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which stimulates the body, raising your blood pressure and heart rate and making you breathe harder.

Nicotine levels in the brain decrease when you stop using tobacco. This change sets in motion processes that contribute to the cycle of cravings and urges that keep the addiction going.

Long-term brain changes caused by continued nicotine exposure result in nicotine dependence and attempts to quitting it cause withdrawal symptoms.

What is the difference between nicotine dependence and nicotine withdrawal?

Anyone who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is at the risk of developing nicotine addiction (dependence) and withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine dependence and withdrawal are influenced by a variety of factors.

Nicotine addiction

  • Nicotine is a stimulant that can be found in tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars.
  • Nicotine changes the levels of certain brain chemicals, your mood, and concentration levels are often accentuated in a way that produces feelings of pleasure and energy while reducing stress and anxiety levels.
  • Because this is a very quick change it is very easy for you to become addicted to this nicotine rush.
  • Even light nicotine ingestion may lead to eventual addiction.

Nicotine withdrawal

  • Tobacco use increases the number of nicotine receptors in the brain.
  • When you stop nicotine, those receptors continue to expect nicotine and begin to adjust when they do not get it.
  • That adjustment process is what causes cravings and withdrawal. Overcoming withdrawal symptoms and cravings are some of the determining factors in whether you successfully quit.

Some of the withdrawal symptoms you may experience include:

Nicotine dependence leads to nicotine withdrawals and relapse. It is an unending cycle because it is part of the addiction process.

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What is the link between nicotine and lung cancer?

Nicotine by itself does not cause cancer. However, cigarettes and tobacco contain other compounds, such as benzene and nitrosamines (carcinogens), which when used for a long term may cause cancer.

Cells in the lungs that are exposed to these carcinogens may be harmed. The DNA of the cell is specifically altered or mutated.

  • A cell's DNA governs all its functions, including when and how much it grows and divides.
  • If the DNA is mutated in such a way that the regulation of the cell's growth and division is altered, the cell may grow and divide uncontrollably, resulting in the formation of cancer.
  • This damage can accumulate in each cell, eventually leading to lung cancer.
  • Although it can take years or even decades for the DNA damage that leads to lung cancer to occur, it has been demonstrated that even small but consistent amounts of nicotine can alter the DNA in a cell.

Is it good to stop nicotine immediately?

The benefits of quitting nicotine can start right away, and you can cut down the risk of various nicotine-related disorders within a few years.

Within days

The heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. Circulation may improve.

The level of oxygen in the blood may return to normal, and the risk of a heart attack is usually reduced.

The lungs and liver detoxify the body from carcinogenic agents.

  • Within weeks
    • Organs in the body start to feel healthy.
  • Within a month
    • May see a difference in skin health.
  • Within a year or two
    • The risk of diseases and cancer is reduced.

Nicotine has an impact on many aspects of the body, including the heart, hormones, metabolism, and brain.

Besides weight gain, those who stop nicotine may immediately experience the following negative effects:

The dangers of nicotine far outweigh any benefits of nicotine cessation. Do not be concerned if you gain weight after quitting. Most people who quit nicotine gain only a small amount of weight. Instead, focus on improving your diet and increasing your physical activity.

3 ways to counter nicotine withdrawals

Understand the feelings and symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal because there are ways to manage them.

Try the following methods if you are experiencing nicotine withdrawal symptoms:

  1. Exercises
    • Weight gain is the most common symptom.
    • If you are concerned about gaining weight, exercise is a great alternative.
    • Exercise helps release “feel-good” hormones, which may combat nicotine cravings.
  2. Learn to understand your symptoms
    • Do not become dissatisfied or frustrated with the changes that occur in your body and life after you stop nicotine.
    • Plan engaging distractions and a support system for your transition to relying on them.
    • The first step is to recognize and anticipate anxiety and confusion because they relate to quitting. Wait it out or take a break to talk to a friend who understands your situation.
  3. Take steps to control your stress
    • Understand that for the first few weeks after quitting, your emotions will be heightened. Talk to someone about your mood, go for a walk or do some engaging work to relieve stress.
    • Keep yourself busy. Prepare a small snack or look for a job to keep you occupied during times of craving.
    • Before going to bed take a warm bath, get a massage, or read a book.
    • Avoid spicy and irritating foods while you wait for this period to pass.
    • Deep breathing or meditation can help you relax.
    • To stay cool, wear light clothing and drink plenty of water.

When you stop using nicotine, your body begins to heal right away. People who quit before the age of 40 years have a 90 percent chance of avoiding nicotine-related disease according to the National Cancer Institute.

Even if you have been diagnosed with cancer or another disease, quitting can help. The sooner you quit, the better your health will be.

What should I do if I start nicotine again?

A relapse occurs when you resume nicotine after weeks, months, or years of abstinence. It is usually caused by a large trigger or an unexpected event.

A relapse can lead to an increase in:

  • Health problems
  • Negative feelings
  • Depression
  • Self-condemnation
  • Hopelessness

You will go through all the withdrawal symptoms as if it were your first-time quitting.

Most people make numerous attempts to quit, and evidence suggests that it may take seven to nine attempts to successfully quit nicotine. Relapse is a regular occurrence during the stopping process.

You learn something new every time you give up. Don't give up; there is still time to avert a full relapse. Make a firm commitment. Making mistakes or stumbling can be a learning experience. Remember that each relapse will make you stronger.

QUESTION

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Medically Reviewed on 2/25/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

Swedish Health Services. Nicotine Dependence: How Does it Happen? https://www.swedish.org/classes-and-resources/smoking-cessation/nicotine-dependence-how-it-happens

National Institutes of Health. Handling Nicotine Withdrawal and Triggers When You Decide To Quit Tobacco. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/withdrawal-fact-sheet

National Institutes of Health. Reasons People Smoke. https://veterans.smokefree.gov/nicotine-addiction/reasons-people-smoke

American Cancer Society. Why People Start Smoking and Why It’s Hard to Stop. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html