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Signs of Nicotine Addiction and Withdrawal

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Nov 16, 2022

Signs of Nicotine Addiction and Withdrawal

Based on the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), over 16 million Filipinos use tobacco products. In this survey, nearly 91% of smokers and non-smokers believe that it is addictive while 95% believe it causes serious illness. Tobacco products are addictive due to their high nicotine content. Look out for the signs of nicotine addiction and withdrawal.

Causes of nicotine addiction

Contrary to popular belief, nicotine is not directly responsible for cancer or lung disease. Tobacco products contain many toxic ingredients and carcinogens that cause illnesses. However, the problem with nicotine is how addictive is is.

Nicotine is a psychoactive substance contained in tobacco and other plants. When nicotine enters the body, it binds to receptors in the brain and nerves. Binding to these receptors releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters, which gives a feeling of pleasure and relief. However, this manipulation of the pleasure system of the brain contributes to dependency and addiction.

As someone continues to use nicotine, the mind and body will begin wanting more. The same amount each time may not be enough and if they try to stop suddenly. This is how tolerance and withdrawal symptoms evolve. Because nicotine is combined with harmful substances, as someone tries to satisfy their cravings, they are also exposing themselves to these toxins.

Signs of nicotine addiction

#1: Can’t stop at one

One of the hallmark signs of any addiction is the inability to stop using it. The feel-good effects of nicotine keep users coming back for more, even if they are already experiencing adverse effects due to the other chemicals in tobacco products. This is why certain smoking cessation products are used to curb the rewarding effects of nicotine and reduce nicotine cravings.

#2: Needing more over time

In addition to being unable to stop, another sign of nicotine addiction is the progressive need for more. Maybe in the beginning a cigarette or two per day would suffice, but over time, it may become one every few hours. This is because the body produces more nicotine receptors for nicotine to bind to. Empty receptors create a feeling of deficiency which prompts the user to use more nicotine to feel satisfied. The state of getting used to the same dose is known as tolerance.

#3: It has become a go-to stress-reliever

One reason many people use tobacco is to relieve stress and feel good. Nicotine reacts quickly in the body and releases a burst of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. However, there are healthier alternatives to relieving stress. Exercise such as jogging is a great alternative that releases endorphins a.k.a. “happy hormones“. If exercise isn’t your thing, sex with your partner is another way to relieve stress in a healthy and intimate way.

#4: Spending too much money

Addictions definitely cost a lot, both in terms of health and finances. Nicotine addictions can be especially expensive as more taxes are imposed on tobacco products. So-called healthier alternatives such as electronic cigarettes also cost a pretty penny to refill and maintain. In countries where single sticks of cigarettes are sold, the accumulated cost is more than buying per box or in bulk.

Aside from the cost of the nicotine-containing products, the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses needs to be factored in. Many smokers experience more infections and respiratory symptoms such as coughing and rhinitis.

However, despite these adverse health effects and financial burden, those with nicotine addiction will treat their cigarettes as an essential commodity, along with food and housing. They may sell personal things or try cutting costs around the house in order to purchase their nicotine products.

#5: Withdrawal symptoms

Lastly, withdrawal symptoms are major signs of nicotine addiction. Withdrawal occurs when someone tries to reduce their use or stop altogether. These are physical and mental symptoms that show up when someone resists a craving. Common nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Anxiousness
  • Hunger
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

These symptoms are not permanent and do get better the longer someone goes without nicotine. Typically, symptoms are worst during the first week after quitting and subside within a month or two.

Long-term effects of nicotine addiction

It goes without saying that any sort of addiction can have long-term consequences. These effects can disrupt the mind, body, and even social life. In addition, long-term effects of nicotine addiction do not only harm the user but can also affect those around them.

Environmental impact

For those living in the city, you are no strangers to smog and pollution. While the major contributors to pollution are motor vehicles and large factories, smoking also has an impact. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke (and even thirdhand smoke) can be dangerous to both smokers and non-smokers. Aside from polluting the air, toxins in smoke and cigarette butts can contaminate soil and water.

This is why many city and national governments around the world have implemented taxes on tobacco products as well as banned smoking in public places. However, because of addiction, many users still find ways to smoke despite these barriers.

Birth defects

In past decades, smoking was more prevalent due to less regulation and available research. Women who used tobacco while pregnant were more likely to have babies with birth defects, especially during the first trimester. Some of these defects include shortened or absent limbs and cleft palate as well as prematurity and growth restriction.

Nicotine crosses the placenta and enters breastmilk, which exposes the fetus and newborn to nicotine and other chemicals. In addition to the physical defects caused by tobacco, nicotine exposure increases the rate of behavioral and emotional disorders in infants. Early exposure to nicotine also increases the risk of addiction.

Weight loss

Some people use tobacco products because it helps them lose weight. The reasons why cigarettes and other tobacco products increase weight loss are by stimulating the metabolism and reducing appetite. These studies showed that duration of use had more of an effect than the dose used.

Physical activity improved weight loss, however, smokers tend to be less active than non-smokers. Additionally, obese smokers experienced less of this metabolism benefit. While studies have shown that long-term smokers do have lower BMIs than non-smokers, this does not outweigh the harmful effects of tobacco use.

Serious illnesses

Lastly, the worst outcomes of long-term tobacco use are serious illnesses and death. Both firsthand and secondhand smoke can increase the risk and exacerbate respiratory diseases. Due to the carcinogens in cigarettes, the overall risk of cancer is increased, especially mouth and throat, stomach, lung, and cervical cancer.

Key takeaways

In summary, knowing the signs of nicotine addiction can help you or your loved one quit tobacco. Addiction is more than just physically using substances but also entails the mental dependency on them. While nicotine alone may have some disputed health benefits, cigarettes and tobacco have no health benefits. If you think that it’s time to quit, talk to your doctor or contact a smoking cessation program hotline for more help and information.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Nov 16, 2022

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