Nicotine Dependence and Addiction

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For the individuals out there that have gotten past the debate over how much harm electronic cigarettes do, the next argument is over how much harm is done by nicotine.  Electronic cigarettes are being found to cut 99% of the harm out of traditional nicotine use by removing smoke from the equation.  Some even theorize that electronic cigarettes may not pose any long-term health concerns.

So then the argument comes that nicotine is an addictive substance and should be controlled based on said addiction alone.  So comes the time to take a look at nicotine addiction by itself as it compares to other (legal and illegal) drugs.

According to many researchers, nicotine is the most addictive substance available.  More than 30% of individuals that use nicotine for a period of time become addicted.  That beats out caffeine (just under 30%), Heroin (25%), and alcohol (15%).    Where this really starts to look bad is when considering dependence (that is, how difficult it is to quit nicotine).  Most researchers agree that nicotine is the most difficult habit to kick.

Nicotine ranks ahead of cocaine, heroin, alcohol, caffeine, and marijuana in dependence.  This is why the smoking cessation market is such a huge one — and why pharmaceutics companies are fighting to keep it.  Simply put, it’s damned hard to quit.  It doesn’t help that the withdrawal symptoms are about as bad as those of cocaine.

But then, what are the effects when you ignore addiction.  Researchers rank the intoxication level of nicotine alongside caffeine (almost none).  People aren’t loosing control under the influence.  Some research has shown nicotine use can increased blood pressure and heart rate.  It’s suggested that these effects can eventually lead to cardiovascular issues — but it sounds similar to the cardiovascular issues a lifetime of caffeine use can create.  Many individuals gladly take this chance in exchange for the benefits (weight loss, stress relief, reaction time and memory improvement, and others) of nicotine.

This makes the argument much harder to make for the obsessive control of clean, safe, and virtually harmless delivery of nicotine.  We don’t control caffeine (a substance readily given to kids) because the effects aren’t terrible and we can obtain it without gradually killing ourselves.  Providing nicotine to people the same way means we can no longer complain that individuals are killing themselves (and sticking us with the bill).  We can only argue that addiction by itself is hazardous enough to warrant legislation.

By the way, we don’t control alcohol to the degree that we do nicotine or even marijuana (this is simple point, not an argument for the legalization of marijuana).  Alcohol has a lower addiction rate.  However, alcohol is more intoxicating than cocaine, heroin, or marijuana and its withdrawal side effects (seizures, vomiting, depression, hallucinations, and more) are worse than those of all three.  Maybe addiction by itself is a good enough reason to control a substance, but even within that framework, our nation’s drug control sensibilities needs some sprucing up.

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