Understanding Addiction

A custom loathesome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless. James I of England (1566-1625) A branch of the sin of drunkenness, which is the root of all sins. James I of England (1566-1625) Herein is not only a great vanity, but a great contempt of God’s good gifts, that the sweetness of man’s breath, being a good gift of God, should be willfully corrupted by this stinking smoke. James I of England (1566-1625) Generations before us have observed and suffered the deadly effects of tobacco. The observations of James I of England were correct. James I as well as other important historical figures condemned the use of tobacco. His association of tobacco with alcohol was insightful. Indeed both alcohol and nicotine, as well as all other addicting compounds affect the brain’s reward and pleasure circuitry; all involve dopamine.

What makes tobacco so deadly?

The smoke. Mainly it’s the smoke that kills. Tobacco smoke–the vehicle that delivers the addictive nicotine into the lungs–contains numerous poisons which include cancer-causing substances.

addictingWhy is tobacco addicting?

Nicotine – and perhaps other substances in the tobacco. Is nicotine harmful? Well yes and no. Nicotine is used as a deadly insecticide and the amount of nicotine in four cigarettes taken in one dose would kill an adult. Smokers absorb only a small percentage of the nicotine in a cigarette. Nevertheless nicotine may be helpful in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and it is a powerful mood enhancer. Many smokers describe feeling calmed or energized when they smoke. It seems contradictory but many smokers feel nicotine both relaxes and motivates them simultaneously! The problem is, as with all addicting substances, it appears that once the brain ‘learns’ how to use nicotine to control its’ anxiety and motivate itself, the brain ‘forgets’ how to respond to its’ own mood chemicals. It can’t calm or motivate itself and depends on nicotine to do it.

Why can’t smokers get nicotine in forms safer than tobacco?

Good question. Many pharmacists can make nicotine lollipops or nicotine lip balm that can provide nicotine to addicts. These forms, being flameless would be safer than cigarettes and cigars considering the number of fire deaths and damage caused by smoked tobacco. In fact everyday, somewhere, someone dies because a smoker fell asleep with a lit cigarette! For some reason government agencies in the USA have declared nicotine lollipops and lip balm illegal. But if nicotine helps someone’s mood and energy level why shouldn’t it be available over-the-counter, in a safe pill or lollipop form? This is difficult to answer. But yes, maybe nicotine should be available to anyone who benefits from it–just as caffeine is. Or maybe both nicotine and caffeine use should be more closely scrutinized. Many alcohol, heroin, and cocaine addicts say that nicotine was their first ‘high’. The feeling from nicotine encouraged them to experiment with drugs that cause more powerful levels of euphoria. Tobacco may indeed be the ‘gateway’ drug.

Are certain people more inclined to develop addiction?

Some addiction scientists and clinicians hold that people who develop addiction problems may be born with lower than normal levels of ‘good mood’ chemicals and their addiction is a result of their attempt to just feel ‘normal’ through self-medication. This may be correct. Countless numbers of individuals self-medicate with mood-enhancing or mood-altering substances such as alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, opiates and other legal and illegal chemicals.

But why don’t smokers just quit? Aren’t they just weak? Don’t they just lack determination to stop? Isn’t it their own fault anyway? After all, no one made them start smoking!

Again, addiction is a condition of a severe change in the person’s reward hierarchy. The need or craving for the drug can cause the person to overlook their own health and welfare and they may even neglect the health and welfare of others! Consider the roller-coaster. A ride on a roller-coaster can be very exciting. The accelerations, twists and turns can be so thrilling and exhilarating that a group of friends at an amusement park may spend their whole day riding the roller-coaster. When the day is over they may feel exhausted—but happy to describe the fun they had to others. While their fun on the roller-coaster was memorable, the next day they went back to school or work. They did not suffer irresistible urges or cravings to get back on the roller-coaster. They did not go back, day after day, to the amusement park to spend their life riding the roller-coaster. They did not overlook their health or responsibilities in order to get the ‘roller-coaster high’. Not so with drug-induced euphorias. Oxygen-toting lung cancer patients will continue to smoke. Mouth cancer patients with tracheostomies will continue to smoke tobacco through the holes surgically cut into their throats. We see the overpowering force of addiction in other settings as well. Drug addicts will forfeit custody of their children in order to continue their habit. Often opiate addicts will not eat in order to avoid spending money for food instead of heroin. Addicts have lost their freedom, they are enslaved. Certainly some do break their chains and get better but the six million tobacco-related deaths each year are a stark testimony to those who could not free themselves from nicotine. Consider that each year approximately 50% of smokers try to quit tobacco yet less than 2% are successful!

Addiction Stronger Than Love

“Doc, I like (romance), but I love nicotine”. – A.M. Many smokers say that nicotine gives them an extremely powerful pleasure sensation. Some say that this feeling is even stronger than the most reinforcing biological sensations!! While this experience is more commonly described by opiate and cocaine addicts it is interesting just how overwhelming and controlling an addiction can be. Have you ever seen stories on TV about celebrities who die by drug overdose, or seen beautiful and handsome celebrities damage their lives, lose their marriages, end their careers because of addiction problems? These episodes are vivid demonstrations of the power of addicting chemicals—they take over the person. Essentially their brains have been re-wired, they are actually not the person they were prior to their addiction. Again, they are enslaved, dehumanized. You cannot reason with them, they cannot reason with themselves. Many addicts will tell you that tobacco was their first drug! Tobacco gave them their first ride on the dopamine rollercoaster! There is an enormous volume of scientific research incriminating tobacco as a health hazard and a cause of death. This data is an obvious indictment of those involved in tobacco production, distribution and sale. This causes one to wonder why the use of tobacco is still so prevalent and even increasing in certain parts of the world. Why do governments and international organizations, well aware of its’ consequences, allow continued production and access to tobacco? Where are the voices of political, educational and religious leaders on this matter? We at unholysmoke.org are working to bring the attention of political, educational and religious leaders to this problem. This situation cannot be allowed to persist. Those who are entrusted with the protection and instruction of communities and nations cannot be allowed to overlook this problem. Please join us in our work.  Thank you. Please sign our petition and tell your friends to as well.