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The Physical and Mental Effects of Tobacco

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May 31 is World No Tobacco Day, a time to spread awareness about the tobacco epidemic its contribution to preventable disease and death. Tobacco products, especially smoking tobacco products, can lead to many physical and mental health challenges. There can be up to 7000 chemical additives in one lit cigarette that can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin.

Among the most dangerous chemicals in tobacco products is nicotine, the highly addictive chemical compound that contributes the most to addiction. According to Dr. Jessica Sullivan, Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS), and Licensed Psychologist for Centerstone, “The human body builds resistances to nicotine quickly, therefore requiring you to use even more soon after you begin smoking.” Because nicotine is so addictive, it is important to know the physical effects of using these products to prevent future use and motivate the end of present use.

Physical effects of tobacco

Tobacco use, especially smoking, can lead to a variety of physical effects.

  • Deprives the body of oxygen due to increased carbon dioxide intake
  • Increases blood pressure and heart rate, and decreases circulation
  • Increases risk for cancers including lung, pancreatic, esophageal, bladder, and more
  • Can lead to lung diseases that disrupt airflow and weaken lungs, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema
  • Can change your physical appearance: wrinkles, gray skin, gum disease, and more
  • Leads to addiction – reliance on tobacco products to stay physically and mentally comfortable

Mental effects of tobacco

While there has been increased awareness over time of the physical effects of tobacco, the mental effects are often left out of the conversation. These are just as important to be aware of when thinking about what makes tobacco products harmful and why they should be avoided.

The mental health challenges begin with the addiction. Aside from addiction itself being a mental illness, tobacco and nicotine addiction can add extra stress to your life through the struggle to maintain the addiction. As the physical effects of tobacco products have become more well-known, tobacco products have become more difficult to use. There are fewer smoking areas in public and fewer workplaces allow you to smoke on-site.

“People who use tobacco products have to go to greater lengths to use them, making them feel more ostracized and stressed,” says Dr. Sullivan. “Then there is also the financial stress of maintaining the addiction.” Tobacco and nicotine addiction can even increase your risk of relapsing into other unrelated addictions.

Tips for quitting

People who develop a tobacco and nicotine addiction often say that using these products relaxes them. According to Dr. Jessica Sullivan, however, there are no components of these products that naturally make the body relax. Instead, you feel relaxed because you are being more mindful about your breathing. You can continue taking the time for mindful breathing to help you as you apply other strategies for quitting, such as the 4 Ds:

  1. Delay – the urge will last for a short period of time, and the craving will likely go away whether you give in or not.
  2. Deep breathe – there are several strategies for deep breathing you can exercise. Whatever you do, take time to think about your breathing for a few minutes.
  3. Drink cold water – the act of ingesting something can help curb the urge.
  4. Do something – distract yourself by doing something unrelated to get your mind off the urge.

If you are struggling with tobacco addiction or any other substance use disorder, Centerstone is here to help. Call us at 1-877-HOPE123 (877-467-3123) or visit centerstone.org/connect-with-us/ to get connected with care.

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