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Nicotine Effects on the Body, Effects of Cigarettes

Abstract: Smoking has all the effects of other addictive drugs.

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Nicotine Effects on the Body, Effects of Cigarettes

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Written by: Wendy Moelker, Psychologist in charge, tutor, Emergis center for mental health care, Goes, the Netherlands.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 24 Jul 2008.

What does nicotine do to the body? What is the effect of cigarettes?


After a relatively short time, a smoker is often already significantly dependent on nicotine. Smokers who have an addiction problem usually smoke a cigarette in the morning - often within half an hour of waking up. They can stop smoking, if they try, but only for a few weeks at a time. Addiction is an emotionally charged word that is often associated with using drugs. But smoking also shares all the effects on the body of other addictive drugs. When a smoker feels the need to smoke and feels uncomfortable, the reason is that the level of nicotine in the body has been reduced below some value. After the first puff on a new cigarette, nicotine is back in the brain within 7 seconds. So the effect of a new dose of nicotine is quickly noticeable. This way the nicotine causes physical dependence. The body wants to get the new substance over and over again.

However, an addiction to nicotine can be cured. Most smokers can even do it without help. It's clear, though, that the will to stop and the effort to succeed are very important.

The smoker often deals with a double addiction. In addition to the direct effect of nicotine on the body, as described above, there are all kinds of moments, all day long, that more or less ask for a cigarette. It is very hard for many smokers to break that pattern; it is a form of mental dependence. Because smokers smoke after eating, when drinking coffee, while having a drink, during a phone call, in the car, at work, during a break, after having sex, in front of the television, after a game, when not? And even if there is not a direct reason to smoke, they do. Just because they are used to it. A smoker who stops smoking sits with empty hands on many occasions, and at first, that feels very uncomfortable.

Early smokers notice the nasty effects of the nicotine, and are initially discouraged from smoking another cigarette. Youngsters who just started smoking often resolve not to get addicted or to quit smoking before they become addicted. When you haven't yet started to smoke every day, this seems a good plan, and maybe also when you smoke less then 2 or 3 cigarettes a day, but you rarely stop at those few cigarettes. Influenced by the people around you (smoking friends who softly urge you to smoke along), smoking gradually becomes a normal thing. A night out, at a movie, a disco or a bar; smoking is still standard in many places. That way young people start to smoke more often. Gradually, the body gets more and more used to the nicotine, the need to smoke increases and you develop the habit and addiction that adult smokers know so well and that means that you can't function without your cigarette anymore.

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