For decades, everyone assumed that nicotine was what made smoking such a hard habit to break. The whole concept of nicotine-replacement therapy is founded on this. The CDC still claims that “nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol,” yet new research suggests that nicotine may not be the primary cause behind tobacco addiction. As it turns out, nicotine withdrawal and smoking withdrawal may not be the same thing after all.
The Truth About Nicotine Withdrawal
Since most people associate nicotine with tobacco, it’s no surprise that the substance gets a bad wrap. The fact that smoking causes millions of deaths annually is indisputable; however, why cigarettes are addictive is a subject of ongoing debate. Tobacco cigarettes contain dozens of chemicals other than nicotine that could have addictive properties. Another theory is that those additives add to the mildly addictive properties of nicotine.
The delivery method of nicotine greatly impacts how the chemical is absorbed into the body. Studies have proven that smokers take in much more nicotine than vapers, which some public health officials say explains why tobacco cigarettes are more addictive than e-cigarettes. Research in another field has thrown into question whether or not nicotine is addictive at all.
How Addictive is Nicotine?
Human experiments measuring the therapeutic uses of nicotine have not supported the hypothesis that nicotine is highly addictive. While investigating how small amounts of pure nicotine may improve neurological disorders, doctors have yet to document any withdrawal symptoms in test subjects. They did, however, discover that controlled doses of nicotine help Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. As part of the study, nicotine was administered through skin contact via nicotine patches.
A less scientific yet more publicized study that threw nicotine’s addictive properties into question was undertaken by journalist Michael Mosley. Mosley, who is not a smoker, started regularly vaping for a month to find out whether e-cigs alone can be addictive. He reported no urges to vape during his experiment, and didn’t notice any withdrawal symptoms once it was over. Animal research also supports the theory that other ingredients in cigarettes, not nicotine, are responsible for withdrawal after tobacco cessation.
What are the Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Nicotine withdrawal and tobacco withdrawal were once considered the same thing, but that is no longer true. The harsh side effects smokers suffer when quitting smoking have less to do with nicotine and more to do with tar and dozens of other bad things in cigarettes. By itself, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal are similar to caffeine withdrawal, which include headaches and nausea, along with fatigue and irritability. Many former smokers can also tell you all about “smoker’s flu” which isn’t a virus but rather the collective symptoms associated with cigarette detox.
The symptoms of smoker's flu" include:
- Trouble concentrating
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Trouble sleeping
- Cough and sore throat
This all sounds unpleasant, but it’s the process your body must go through to heal. Within four days, ex-smokers usually feel much better than they did when they were smoking.
Nicotine may very well be habit-forming like caffeine, but the jury is still out. Either way, comparing nicotine to heroin isn’t just absurd; it’s irresponsible. The CDC owes the public more honest information, and they should join Public Health England in supporting e-cigs as a safer alternative to tobacco.
Related: Quitting Nicotine: E-Cigarettes Vs. Tobacco Cigarettes