Addiction and Recovery
By Bob Gaydos
“The cigarette is a very efficient and highly engineered drug-delivery system.”
The sentence appears on the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With its sheer bluntness, it says all you need to know about why more than 50 million Americans smoked a cigarette last month despite massive campaigns detailing the health risks of smoking, despite the fact that many of those risks are printed right on the cigarette pack, despite restrictions on smoking in public areas, and even despite the increasingly high cost of smoking because of taxes placed on tobacco products.
Nicotine delivers endorphins, euphoria, dopamine to the brain with each puff on the cigarette. A pack a day is about 200 “hits” of good feeling. Stop puffing, it goes away. The brain doesn’t like the change in mood. Withdrawal can be unpleasant.
“Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, and smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States.”
That sentence also appears on the NIDA web site (www.drugabuse.gov) and the two statements taken together are why it’s important not to ignore the addiction health threats staring us in the face — or assaulting the senses of non-smokers — amidst the daily serving of headlines on drunk drivers and drug overdoses.
Nearly half a million deaths annually are still attributed to smoking and, despite significant progress in reducing the number of smokers, according to NIDA, “if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans who are currently younger than 18 will die prematurely from smoking-related disease.”
Nicotine is addictive. Smoking kills people before their time.
And yes, a lot of people have gotten the message. Surveys show smoking rates for people 18 and older continue to go down and the rate of smoking among those under 18 is at historically low levels. That latter is key because tobacco is often the first substance adolescents use to emulate adults and often leads to other substance use disorders. Research also suggests that nicotine has a strong impact on still-developing adolescent brains, making it more difficult for those who want to quit when they are older. And nearly everyone who smokes has tried to quit. Some succeed. Some have a hard time.
The jury is still out on e-cigarettes as a replacement for cigarettes. They remove the chemicals that, when burned, are responsible for the various health risks attribute to cigarettes, leaving vapers to go for the nicotine rush. But some research suggests other possible risks, especially for young users, so it’s buyer beware.
Significantly, for the focus of this column, research shows a strong connection between smoking and persons with alcohol or other substance dependence and a prevalence of smoking (65 to 85 percent) among persons in treatment for all substance use disorders. Addictions often go together, but quitting one doesn’t always mean quitting others is easier. The next column will report on what some people with alcohol or other substance use disorders have experienced as they tried to quit smoking.
Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org