Contradictory views on the nature of nicotine dependenceEvidence that nicotine is a reinforcing substance in nonhumans, that most people who smoke want to stop and can't, that when people do stop...

Contradictory views on the nature of nicotine dependence

Evidence that nicotine is a reinforcing substance in nonhumans, that most people who smoke want to stop and can't, that when people do stop smoking they gain weight and exhibit other withdrawal signs, and that people who chew tobacco also have trouble stopping led to a need for a thorough look at the dependence-producing properties of nicotine. How can we compare and discuss those two somewhat contradictory views on the nature of nicotine dependence?

Expert Answers
wannam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not sure what contradiction you are looking at with this information.  I do agree that there are both psychological and physical factors involved in nicotine addiction.  I think the psychological factors are part of the reason that many smokers who have quit return to smoking at some point (hopefully to quit again).  We know that smoking is dangerous and harmful to the human body, however, much of that harm comes from other factors beside just the nicotine.  Yes, nicotine has an impact on the body and carries its own side effects, but much of the damage comes from smoking itself.  There are other chemicals and other ingredients in a cigarette besides just nicotine.  The act of breathing in smoke alone carries health risks that have little to do with the nicotine contained in the tobacco.  There are a few conditions, like IBS, that can be improved with nicotine, but these are rare.  The negative side to smoking would seem to outweigh any advantages to nicotine as a treatment method.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think many people don't realize that the psychological addicition is every bit as strong as the physical one, or at least, it was for my dad when he tried to quit.  Smoking is a habit chemically, but also in terms of physical and social action.  Smokers enjoy a cigarette after a meal, while driving, and in social situations.  Quitting means not only withdrawing from the nicotine, but changing habits of behavior in each of those situations.  Smokers will want a cigarette in a bar, or dricing their car often for years after the nicotine is gone from their system, simply because their mind has a powerful association between the act of driving or socializing, and the act of smoking.  It takes time to re-associate those actions with non-smoking activities and thoughts instead.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The contradictions are the "I want to/I can't" dichotomies. This contradiction is reinforced by the strongly undesirable results of attempting to stop. One point that becomes obvious through comparison of the hazards of continuing to the hazards of quitting is that dependence effects an individual's cognitive and logical processes complicating decision making and leading to a "paralysis" thereof. In such a case (which is similar to what often occurs in chronic illness as well: impairment of decision making because all choices seem equally useless), the dependent status quo seems to be the only workable option and thus inevitable.

vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's hard to imagine why anyone today could think that smoking might have any health advantages or even have a neutral impact on one's health. I read a few months ago that there were plans to make new cigarette packs illustrate -- quite graphically -- the possible consequences of smoking. Apparently the new packs would show photos of cancer, etc. However, I noticed recently that this plan had been stopped by a judge.  I hope that eventually this new plan will indeed be enacted.

belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is at least some evidence that nicotine has positive effects in the body, including some protection against Alzheimer's; not many, and none that overcome the addiction and harm that smoking causes, but there is clear room for research into nicotine as a therapeutic drug. See also Electronic Cigarettes, which have become a boom industry in recent years.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not aware of anyone saying that it's better to continue smoking than to risk gaining weight as a result of quitting. Obviously, the ideal would be to quit without the weight gain, but the struggle to overcome the physical and psychological addictions frequently manifests itself in overeating to compensate for the loss of the nicotine and its associated rituals. This is not a contradiction - it is a side effect of the battle to overcome the dependence.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't understand how you present two "contradictory views" about nicotine dependence. Certainly there are difficulties in giving up smoking and chewing tobacco, but this is because they are addictive substances that create dependence. I certainly think that the benefits of giving up a behaviour such as smoking or chewing tobacco is much greater than the side effects and problems of trying to give up these habits. There is no competition.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the above post. If one doesn't smoke, they are not aware of the psychological dependence on tobacco. That being said, the side effects (for one who wishes to quit smoking) are pretty inflated in the minds of society overall. Typically, a person only gains five to ten pounds only. Once one completely quits, losing the few gained pounds should be easy (given lung function improves and the overall benefit to not smoking).