Nicotine is both a sedative and a stimulant. Nicotine found in tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars, bidis, and krekets, can either be smoked, chewed or sniffed.
As nicotine enters the body, the individual experience a ‘kick’. This kick happens because nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands, which results in the release of adrenaline. When adrenaline kicks in, the body stimulates. Along with adrenaline being released, there is also an immediate release of glucose and an increase in heart rate, breathing activity, and blood pressure. Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee, and cacao plants. It works by stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping you to stay alert and preventing the onset of tiredness.
In fact, nicotine and caffeine go together hand in hand as the two have more in common than we have initially thought. For example, nicotine and caffeine are both alkaloids that derived from plants. Both of them naturally stimulate dopamine production in the brain as they act as stimulants on the central nervous system. Taken in small doses, both of them have positive effects. Where they part ways, is the way we consume them.
However, no one can dispute the fact that nicotine and caffeine are addictive. People who regularly use either substance will experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and fatigue if they quit cold turkey. But, if both of them are addictive, why do we advocate for not consuming nicotine and ignore the fact that caffeine is too just as addictive?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine, which we know to love in the form of coffee, is found in beans, leaves, and the fruits of some plants. This substance acts as a natural pesticide in plants, where it paralyzes or kills insects that feed on the plant. However, in the human body, this substance has a different reaction, as it acts as a stimulant. Most common means of caffeine consumption by humans is drinks that are prepared using coffee beans and tea leaves. Caffeine can also be found in various foods and drinks that are prepared from the kola nut. It is a metabolic stimulant commonly used recreationally, and yes, I know, it sounds strange to describe such a common part of our lives this way, but it is true. Caffeine is also used medically to reduce fatigue as the substance is absorbed quickly by the stomach and intestines which later transports throughout the whole body. When consumed for a longer period, caffeine is also very addictive.
So, who is the villain?
Any smoker or coffee drinker could tell how both the substances are certainly addictive. However, new research indicates that besides nicotine, there are other chemicals that contribute to smoking addiction, meaning, nicotine alone might not be as addictive as initially thought. If you take too much nicotine or caffeine, they will both give you similar symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, anxiety, dizziness, headache, arrhythmia, and insomnia. If you quit both substances cold turkey, it may result in headaches and nausea as well as fatigue and irritability.
It is no surprise that smoking causes the worst damage to health, but that damage is caused by the tobacco in cigarettes. Although it is reported that tobacco contains some nicotine and nicotine itself is not harmful, when tobacco burns, it also exposes users to other dangerous chemicals such as tar and arsenic. As said earlier, both nicotine and caffeine are addictive. That is why many users of the latter, but especially caffeine addicts may find it hard to give up their coffee, tea, or cola habit, even when it threatens their health.
A study published on The Journal of the American Medical Association that was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse regarding caffeine dependence suggests that the issue is of major importance because “caffeine is so widely used and in showing that some people have this dependence on it” as Dr. Richard M. Glass notes. He said that in most people, caffeine produces a mild, positive effect, however, higher doses produce anxiety and irritability. To measure the caffeine dependency, the study researchers used the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of drug dependence. The definition is based on four criteria:
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Tolerance development over time
- Using the substance in spite of aggravation of medical or mental problems
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts at quitting
With this being said, to be physically and psychologically addicted to caffeine, one has to meet all four criteria. Dr. Glass notes that most caffeine lovers are physically dependent on caffeine, that if they stop using it, they will suffer from temporary headaches, lethargy, and even depression. Furthermore, he says that the study’s goal was to explain how caffeine is a drug that should be given respect and it is more addictive to give up than people think.
DISCLAIMER: This post does not intend to say that you should not drink coffee or promote smoking. It is just about discussing addiction as a relative concept that has changed over time, is changing, and most probably will continue to change.
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