Nicotine Symptoms and Warning Signs

Modified: 22nd Jul 2019

Last updated on July 22nd, 2019 at 02:48 pm

The most prevalent addiction in the world doesn’t have to do with pills or “hard” drugs. It has to do with nicotine. 

Worldwide, almost a quarter of adults smoke tobacco regularly. The consequences are seen in startling amounts of death; globally, 11% of male deaths and 6% of female deaths are linked to nicotine use. 

It creates more deaths than all other substances combined. 

Understanding nicotine symptoms and warning signs is dire to rise above nicotine addiction, and pushing beyond this hurdle has more benefits than most realize. 

Do you or a loved one smoke nicotine? Are you worried about addiction? If so, these signs and symptoms will help.

Symptoms of Addiction to Nicotine

There are a number of symptoms that demonstrate if a person experiences tobacco dependence. Several factors influence the severity of symptoms, including how long an individual has been smoking and how frequently he or she does so. 

Heavier use results in more pronounced symptoms. 

Physical Symptoms 

When nicotine addiction occurs, the brain rewires itself. It quits releasing chemicals that regulate our mind, emotions and body. 

As a result, if the body doesn’t obtain nicotine within a certain time frame, withdrawal occurs. In some smokers, this happens within hours of the last cigarette. 

Physical signs of withdrawal include:

  • Depression
  • Sweating
  • Cramping
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Increased appetite  

If overcome, these withdrawal symptoms disappear. For most smokers, it takes up to four weeks for all symptoms to stop and the brain to begin regulating chemicals normally. 

In others, it takes several months. 

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional symptoms also indicate if an individual has an addiction. Individuals with severe addictions become stressed if they haven’t had a cigarette for as little as an hour, sometimes less. 

During periods where nicotine cannot be used, these people may be irritable or anxious. 

Emotional symptoms appear as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Restlessness

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms develop over time as a result of habit-forming and the brain’s desire for nicotine. Usually, these appear in the form of triggers, events or scenarios that make the individual want to smoke. 

Triggers increase the amount of nicotine consumed and the frequency of use. 

Furthermore, intense cravings that seem impossible to overcome and the perception that someone could quit at any time are common effects. 

Warning Signs a Loved One May Be Abusing Nicotine

Once tobacco abuse is established, the symptoms are clear. However, how do you know when someone is approaching the brink of addiction? 

These are indicators. 

Morning Smoke

The Fagerström Test analyzes a person’s nicotine dependence. According to the test, how soon someone reaches for that first cigarette after waking up indicates the severity of his or her addiction:

  • Smoking within five minutes demonstrates severe addiction.
  • Smoking within half an hour shows a moderate addiction. 
  • Smoking an hour or later indicates a mild addiction. 

If you notice smoking is the first thing on the agenda, it’s a sign your loved one has a dependency.

Smoking When It’s Inconvenient

People with an addiction to nicotine feel the urge to smoke regardless of the situation. That means your loved one may smoke when:

  • He or she is sick
  • He or she must step outside in bad weather to do so
  • He or she is at work

Due to the brain’s desire for more nicotine, individuals seek to satisfy these urges regardless of inconveniences.

Similarly, those addicted sometimes avoid social events where they know nicotine is inaccessible for long periods. 

An Inability to Stop

Approximately 70% of US smokers want to quit but many find it difficult to do so. 

Consequently, it’s not unusual for smokers to attempt to squash the habit only to find they can’t. Quitting for short periods and beginning again is yet another sign that someone is addicted. 

During these periods, withdrawal symptoms occur. 

Is My Child Using Nicotine?

As of 2018, about 25% of high school students report they currently use some type of tobacco product. 

The good news is there are several signs parents should keep an eye out for. They are good hints your child is using nicotine:

  • Smell on clothes or in your child’s room
  • Increased use of air fresheners, cologne or other substances
  • Yellow teeth or stained fingernails
  • Unexplained irritability
  • Your child “steps outside” often
  • You suspect your child’s friends smoke
  • Your son or daughter coughs or continually has a cold

Having open discussions with your child about tobacco’s risks is essential in discouraging use. Do not nag; instead, point out the immediate consequences of smoking and the positives of quitting.

If you suspect your son or daughter is smoking, it’s best to address the situation as soon as possible. Doing so avoids future dependence. Furthermore, nicotine use is linked to opiate dependency, so practicing good habits now discourages addiction later.

Is My Parent Using Nicotine? 

Parental use of nicotine usually occurs openly. When it doesn’t, the same signs (yellow teeth, irritability, continual “walks” outside) occur. 

However, when parents use nicotine openly, it is sometimes difficult to tell if the individual is addicted to the substance. 

To determine if your parent is nicotine-dependent, ask yourself:

  • Does he/she smoke as soon as he wakes up?
  • Does he/she get irritable if she can’t smoke for short durations?
  • Does the individual smoke frequently? 
  • Is he or she unable to stop smoking? 

Although difficult, engaging in a serious discussion with your parent about your concerns may be enough to encourage an attempt at quitting. Even if your parent fails to quit altogether, continue encouraging him or her; it often takes several attempts before a smoker puts away nicotine for good.

Intervention for Nicotine Use

Interventions are an excellent way for children, parents, friends and loved ones to approach nicotine addiction. 

In an intervention, loved ones discuss the addiction in a neutral environment. The most popular method involves friends and family members reading prepared letters describing their feelings. 

Usually, these individuals also discuss the consequences of ignoring treatment.

With tobacco, it’s best to hold the intervention in a neutral, pre-arranged space outside of the individual’s home. Time it for the least stressful period of the day and maintain positivity throughout the session.

Interventions involve intense planning, but they are a good way to encourage loved ones to accept treatment. 

Know Nicotine Symptoms and Warning Signs

These nicotine symptoms and warning signs let individuals know when they or a loved one is suffering from addiction. However, spotting the signs is only the beginning of the journey.  

Learn the ins and outs of interventions in our article, and help your loved one overcome their nicotine addiction.

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.