There was a time in American history when smoking cigarettes was a ubiquitous habit. Men and women were permitted and even encouraged to smoke, not only at home, but in theaters, restaurants, and even on airplanes. Today, smoking is less accepted, less common, and discouraged. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 13.7% of U.S. adults are cigarette smokers; that includes around 15.6% of men and 12% of women.
Though smoking is in decline, it remains very dangerous. Nicotine addiction is linked to everything from lung cancer to cardiovascular disease and continues to exact a significant human toll. Globally, about 15% of all deaths are attributable to cigarette smoking, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In countries where cigarette use is especially prevalent, such as China, that number can exceed 20%.
The good news is these deaths are preventable, and one of the first steps toward prevention is greater awareness of the symptoms and signs of nicotine addiction.
The Dangers of Smoking
One of the reasons it’s so crucial to understanding the signs of nicotine addiction is that, when left untreated, it can have perilous effects on smokers’ physical health. There are several morbidities that are closely linked with cigarette smoking.
Cigarette smoking is connected with premature death. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports life expectancy is 11-12 years shorter for smokers than for nonsmokers. Additionally, research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that in any given year, more than 8 million people die prematurely as a result of smoking cigarettes.
These deaths are preventable. The good news, according to the CDC, is that stopping smoking at any age lowers the risk of dying of a smoking-related disease.
Correlation with Disease
How specifically does smoking lead to an abbreviated life span? One key factor is that smoking cigarettes significantly increases the risk of serious diseases. One key factor is that smoking cigarettes significantly increases the risk of serious diseases.
- Smoking impedes the body’s ability to transport oxygen-rich blood to the heart. The CDC reports some 650,000 Americans die from heart disease each year. About a third of those deaths are linked to cigarette use, according to the American Heart Association.
- Cigarette smoke can also increase the risk of stroke, according to a report from the U.S. surgeon general, due to buildup of plaque in the arteries, increased triglycerides, and a decrease in “good” cholesterol.
- The surgeon general also notes smoking can increase the risk of at least 12 different types of cancer.
Effects on Women’s Health
Nicotine addiction also has some direct consequences for women’s health. Specifically, smoking can damage reproductive health, lower fertility, and lead to greater difficulty conceiving. Cigarette smoke has also been linked to imbalanced or unhealthy hormone production, which can cause further complications with conception and pregnancy.
Dangers of Vaping
Smokers who recognize the signs of nicotine addiction and want to lead a healthier lifestyle will often turn to vaping. While vaping may be less dangerous than smoking cigarettes (the jury is still out on this), it still leads to nicotine exposure, which can raise the risk of heart attack and other diseases.
To learn more about the dangers of smoking and vaping, take a look at these resources.
- com, “The Dangers of Vaping Doctors Want Everyone to Know.” Discover more insights into the risks of vaping.
- Healthline, “The Effects of Smoking on the Body.” Learn about more than two dozen different impacts smoking has on the body.
- VeryWell Family, “What You Need to Know About Smoking and Getting Pregnant.” Learn more about some of the specific ways in which smoking impacts female reproductive health.
What Are the Signs of Nicotine Addiction?
Given the myriad ill effects that can be caused by smoking and vaping, it’s crucial to be aware of the signs of nicotine addiction. There are several potential warning signs and red flags.
Signs of Nicotine Dependence
For those who smoke on a regular or semi-regular basis, there are several telltale signs of nicotine dependence.
- Finding it difficult to refrain from smoking or go for long periods without using any nicotine products
- Withdrawing from social activities, family events, or hobbies to spend more time smoking or vaping
- Continuing to smoke or vape despite warnings from a doctor or the onset of serious health problems
Physical Signs of Nicotine Withdrawal
When nicotine addiction is present, going for a prolonged period without smoking or vaping can lead to signs of withdrawal. Some of the signs of nicotine withdrawal are physical, and include the following:
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping at night
- Increased hunger
- Digestive health issues
Emotional Signs of Nicotine Withdrawal
There are also multiple ways in which nicotine withdrawal can impact emotional wellness. Consider some of these signs.
- Difficulty concentrating
- An “empty” or dissatisfied feeling
Tips on How to Quit and Stay Committed to Quitting
For those who wish to break free from nicotine addiction, recognizing the signs of nicotine addiction is an important first step. From there, a number of practical strategies may be implemented to quit nicotine products and remain nicotine-free.
Preparing to Quit
First, it’s important to lay some groundwork. For those preparing to quit, consider these steps.
- Pick a “quit date” to aim for.
- Allow some time to mentally prepare, build confidence, and talk with friends and family to have some support structures in place.
- Make a list of reasons to quit. These could be as simple as wanting to enjoy more time and a longer life with friends and loved ones.
- Identify personal triggers, e.g., the people, places, or emotions that often lead to a desire to smoke.
- Consider some new habits, routines, or activities that can take the place of smoking or vaping.
Cravings are intense urges to smoke that are a common part of nicotine cessation. While cravings may feel insurmountable in the moment, all cravings are temporary. What’s more, healthy strategies exist to distract the mind from these cravings and reduce their power and duration. Some examples of healthy distractions include those listed here.
- Any kind of exercise or physical activity
- Relaxation techniques, such as yoga or guided breathing
- Visiting a public place where smoking is not permitted
- Reviewing the list of reasons to quit
During the first few days of quitting, the physical and emotional symptoms of nicotine withdrawal may be especially pronounced. Many smokers who successfully quit say the worst of the withdrawal pangs subside after a few weeks. In the meantime, practical steps to help overcome withdrawal can be taken.
- Keep the mouth busy with gum or hard candy.
- Consider nicotine replacement therapy, such as lozenges or patches.
- Engage in some form of vigorous exercise whenever a craving hits or simply go for a walk.
- Call or text a friend for support.
- Pursue a new hobby or activity, such as creative writing, drawing, or playing an instrument.
How to Quit Vaping
Those whose nicotine exposure comes through vaping may also seek some specific tactics to quit.
- Try keeping a journal, expressing some of your anxieties or frustrations as you try to quit. Often, this self-expression can be therapeutic.
- Make sure you have some oral substitutes, whether that’s chewing gum or sunflower seeds.
- Toss out your vape pen and other supplies. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted back into bad habits.
- Enlist the support of family and friends, letting them know you can use their encouragement and patience.
The Benefits of Quitting
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
- Improved blood circulation
- Improved functioning of the lungs (noticeable within two or three weeks of quitting)
- Decrease in coughing and shortness of breath
- Significantly lowered risk of stroke, heart attack, and other forms of cardiovascular disease; (within a year of quitting, the risk of cardiovascular disease is halved)
- Decreased risk of cancer, including cancer of the lungs, esophagus, mouth, and bladder; (10 years after quitting, the risk of dying of lung cancer will be cut in half)
When to Seek Professional Help
For those who wish to quit smoking, there is no harm in enlisting the help of a doctor or nurse. They may be able to provide more individualized tips, strategies, or connections to local support groups and other resources. For those who have unsuccessfully attempted to quit smoking, professional help can be particularly impactful.
Learn More About Quitting
Consult these sources for more information about quitting.
- Healthline, “Ready to Ditch Vaping? 9 Tips for Success.” Discover more about how to kick a vaping habit.
- National Cancer Institute, Where To Get Help When You Decide To Quit Smoking. Learn more about seeking help to quit smoking.
- gov, How to Manage Cravings. Get tips on how to deal with intense cravings during the nicotine withdrawal period.
- WebMD, “Tips for Making it Through Nicotine Withdrawal.” Learn to recognize some of the common triggers and deal with them in a healthy way.
How Nursing Professionals Can Help Patients Kick the Habit
Nurses, like other health professionals, take a strong stand against smoking. A position statement from the American Nurses Association advocates for the elimination of all smoking and smokeless tobacco products, totally removing exposure to secondhand smoke.
For smokers who choose to enlist professional help on their journey to cessation, the assistance of a nurse may prove invaluable. There are several ways in which nurses can help their patients kick the habit, including through education and clinical intervention.
Smoking Cessation Intervention
When providing routine care to patients, nurses can be attentive to the signs of nicotine addiction and talk candidly with their patients about the urgency of quitting. While nurses can’t force anyone to kick their nicotine habit, they can expound on the benefits of cessation, provide information about available resources, and provide personal tips or guidance about how to quit.
One of the most important tools nurses have at their disposal is medical knowledge. Specifically, nurses can provide their patients with informative resources about the risks of smoking, the benefits of cessation, and the nature of nicotine withdrawal. Such resources can not only motivate patients to quit, but can potentially prepare them for some of the challenges they will face in the early days of cessation.
Nurses may also provide their patients with guidance about different treatments and interventions. For example, if patients exhibit signs and symptoms of underlying mental health conditions that could complicate their efforts to quit smoking, nurses may refer them to mental health counselors. Nurses can also provide information about the use of nicotine replacement therapy, which can sometimes be a smart way to minimize withdrawal pain.
Cessation as a Professional Goal
Nurses may even want to make it a concerted professional goal to encourage their patients to stop smoking. This might mean making smoking education a routine part of physical examinations. Strategies may include also having written materials available to distribute to patients who are smokers and counseling them on the best steps toward a healthier lifestyle.
Resources for Nurses
For nurses who wish to learn more about helping their patients quit smoking, consider these resources.
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners, “How to Provide Smoking Cessation Counseling: Ideas From the 2020 Tips From Former Smokers Campaign and More Resources.” Get some advice on how nursing professionals can assist their patients with kicking nicotine habits.
- American Nurses Association, “Tobacco and Nicotine Use Cessation.” Check out the ANA’s position regarding tobacco cessation and a host of information and tools for helping patients quit.
- Centers for Disease Control, “Smoking Cessation – The Role of Health Professionals and Health Systems.” Find out more about the role health professionals can play in encouraging cessation.
Embrace Life Without Nicotine
Nicotine addiction can have perilous, even life-threatening effects on physical health and emotional well-being. The good news for those who have experienced the signs of nicotine addiction is that recovery can be achieved, both through personal effort and the intervention of medical professionals.