The Scoop On Smoking from ACSH: what every teen should know about tobacco
For someone who is accustomed to smoking, going without cigarettes can cause irritability, difficulty thinking and paying attention, increased appetite, difficulty sleeping, and a strong craving for cigarettes. Smoking a cigarette relieves these withdrawal symptoms and makes the person feel better.
Nicotine withdrawal is a real, physical effect. Scientists can even produce it in animals. If they give rats nicotine regularly for a long time and then stop giving it to them, the rats start to act weird. It's obvious that something is bothering them. If the scientists give the rats nicotine again, the abnormal behavior goes away. Scientists have also been able to show that giving animals nicotine for a long time and then taking it away causes changes in their brains. Similar brain changes can be demonstrated with other addictive substances, such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Withdrawal is one of the things that distinguishes a true addiction from an ordinary habit of doing something that you enjoy. For example, let's say that you really like to play computer games. You usually play them every day. But this week, you're at camp, where no computer games are available. You may miss having the chance to play your usual games, but you certainly won't feel physically sick because you have to go without them. And if the camp program is interesting enough, you might forget all about computer games, at least for a while. This is very different from what happens to smokers who have to go without cigarettes. Smokers don't just miss cigarettes; they actually feel bad, physically, without them. And because they are uncomfortable, smokers aren't likely to forget all about smoking, no matter how many interesting things are going on.
Thirty or forty years ago, people who smoked probably didn't have withdrawal symptoms very often. They could smoke almost anywhere they wanted to, at any time they wanted to -- even in public places and at their jobs. Today, though, people usually have to interrupt what they're doing and go outdoors to have a cigarette. Often, this is inconvenient; sometimes, it is impossible. So today's smokers spend a lot of time in the uncomfortable situation of needing a cigarette but not being able to have one.
The American Council on Science and Health is a consumer eduction consortium with a board of 350 physicians, scientists, and policy advisors.