When nicotine enters the body, it initially causes the adrenal glands to release a hormone called adrenaline. The rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Most of the harm to the body is not from the nicotine, but from other chemicals in tobacco or those produced when burning it—including carbon monoxide, tar, formaldehyde, cyanide, and ammonia. Tobacco use harms every organ in the body and can cause many problems. The health effects of smokeless tobacco are somewhat different from those of smoked tobacco, but both can cause cancer.
People who do not smoke but live or hang out with smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke—exhaled smoke as well as smoke given off by the burning end of tobacco products. Just like smoking, this also increases the risk for many diseases. Each year, an estimated 58 million Americans are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and more than 42,000 nonsmokers die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke exposure.2 One in four U.S. middle and high school students say they've been exposed to unhealthy secondhand aerosol from e-cigarettes.
The chart below lists the health problems people are at risk for when smoking or chewing tobacco or as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Nicotine and the Brain
Like other drugs, nicotine increases levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is released normally when you experience something pleasurable like good food, your favorite activity, or spending time with people you care about. When a person uses tobacco products, the release of dopamine causes similar effects. This effect wears off quickly, causing people who smoke to get the urge to light up again for more of that good feeling, which can lead to addiction.
A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over the period of about 5 minutes that the cigarette is lit. So, a person who smokes about 1 pack (25 cigarettes) daily gets 250 “hits” of nicotine each day.
Is Nicotine Addictive?
Yes. It is the nicotine in tobacco that is addictive. Each cigarette contains about 10 milligrams of nicotine. A person inhales only some of the smoke from a cigarette, and not all of each puff is absorbed in the lungs. The average person gets about 1 to 2 milligrams of the drug from each cigarette.
Studies of widely used brands of smokeless tobacco showed that the amount of nicotine per gram of tobacco ranges from 4.4 milligrams to 25.0 milligrams. Holding an average- size dip in your mouth for 30 minutes gives you as much nicotine as smoking 3 cigarettes. A 2-can-a-week snuff dipper gets as much nicotine as a person who smokes 11⁄2 packs a day.
Whether a person smokes tobacco products or uses smokeless tobacco, the amount of nicotine absorbed in the body is enough to make someone addicted. When this happens, the person continues to seek out the tobacco even though he or she understands the harm it causes. Nicotine addiction can cause:
Regulation does not mean that e-cigarettes are necessarily safe for all adults to use, or that all of the health claims currently being made in advertisements by manufactures are true. But it does mean that e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, and cigars now have to follow the same type of rules as cigarette manufacturers.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids (not including methadone) rose a staggering 72 percent in just one year, from 2014 to 2015 and continue to rise. Government agencies and officials of all types are rightly concerned by what some are describing as the third wave of our ongoing opioid epidemic.
As a concerned psychotherapist and addiction specialist, working with individuals and families — the following are the most important things to understand about fentanyl.
If you need help in determining a course of action, feel free to call me.
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
We all have stress in our lives. When it comes to your teens, you know that school (like homework, competitive sports, tests, SATs, college applications) combined with juggling social media and after-school activities is one of the biggest sources of stress. As parent’s you want to make sure that it doesn’t lead them to unhealthy behaviors to help cope.
Stress can be a motivator, but it also can produce negative feelings and, unfortunately, increase the possibility that a teen will use drugs*. When people are under stress, the brain releases cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time and under chronic stress, parts of the brain that are related to memory or learning are negatively affected by the presence of cortisol. Interestingly, some of these areas of the brain are the same parts impacted by drug use and addiction. In reality, your child’s brain is still developing until age 25 to 28 (depending on which study you reference) and stress can damage parts of the brain that can make your child more vulnerable to drug addiction, in the same way that early use of drugs can.
It’s not a new concept that stress can lead to drug use and addiction — far from it — but it’s something that many parents don’t necessarily associate with school and the good intentions that they have for their kids. Abusing drugs not prescribed to them, like prescription stimulants, act on the “reward center” in your child’s brain, releasing euphoric chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. In time, they can cause the brain to rely on drugs to keep those chemicals flowing. While drugs might make your child temporarily feel respite, in the long run, misusing drugs actually makes stress more pronounced.
Unfortunately, those exposed to chronic stress are more likely to use substances in an attempt to relax or “power through” the stress, so it’s important that your child knows how to use healthy coping mechanisms instead to deal with the pressures he or she faces.
For example, some teens when they become stressed out and anxious, may turn to abusing prescription stimulants not prescribed to them — also known as “study drugs,” instead of coping in healthy ways. These are medicines that are used to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as Adderall, Concerta, Vyvance and Ritalin — but are abused to pull all-nighters and cram for exams. Most don’t see this behavior as risky.
But what happens when high school and college kids (who don’t have ADHD) take prescription stimulants that are not prescribed to them? Is this safe or are there real dangers? According to Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the data is showing that overall stimulant medications do not improve your cognitive performance. If you have someone that is performing optimally, and you give them a stimulant, the performance may deteriorate.” “If you’re giving stimulant medications to a kid that doesn’t have ADHD, at the time in their life when their brain is developing very rapidly that may interfere with those developmental processes.”
* For the purpose of this blog - alcohol is considered a drug.
Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS
Marriage & Family Therapist and Registered Addiction Specialist