It takes just seven seconds for nicotine to be absorbed into the brain from cigarettes.
That is faster absorption than from an IV injection.
How nicotine works so well.
When smoke is inhaled, because the lungs have a very large surface area, the nicotine is readily absorbed and goes straight to the brain. There it is taken up by cell surface receptors – those tiny mailboxes that take things from the outside to the inside of cells.
Just like buying a bigger mailbox to handle a larger amount of incoming mail, the brain creates more nicotine receptors to take care of the influx of nicotine, which mimics the function of a major neurotransmitter (acetylcholine). The brain uses the nicotine as if it were acetylcholine, and it then creates electrical signals everywhere in the brain, which then affect every area of brain function.
Because delivery of nicotine is so simple and powerful, and creates actual physical changes in the brain, it is more addictive than either heroine or cocaine.
Nicotine addiction is real.
There are two major parts of addiction to cigarettes: physical and mental/psychological. Both areas need to be addressed in order to break the hold of addiction.
The physical addiction shows up by the physical changes the brain makes in responding to nicotine. Remove nicotine, and suddenly the brain believes it is starved for its’ major neurotransmitter. Just as one starved for food will do anything to find some, the brain sends out powerful signals saying, “get me more!”
The mental/psychological addiction shows up in the peer pressure to smoke, the example of parents and teachers and others who smoke, and the “good feeling” stress response to smoking. Teens who smoke say that could quit any time, they just don’t want to quite yet. They’re invincible, they’ll quit later, and it really does help them deal with adolescent stresses in the moment.
The 20-minute turn around.
Twenty minutes is how long it takes to begin the healing process. Twenty minutes after the last cigarette, the body begins to reverse the damage caused by the drugs (nicotine and others) inhaled, and healing begins.
How to help a teenager who smokes.
Teenagers seem to be well informed about the dangers of smoking. But many of them still smoke. They may be copying the example set by parents or other adults around them. They may be responding to peer pressure or trying to “look cool”. They may be using cigarettes to deal with the very real stresses in their lives. And they may further justify smoking by saying, “at least I’m not using other drugs!” Putting down a drug as addicting as cigarettes takes a level of self-awareness and determination that most teenagers don’t have on their own, and absolutely requires the active and supportive involvement of parents and others to be successful.
While educating teens about the health risks of smoking is important, its probably not enough to get them to put down cigarettes if they’ve already developed the addiction. Punishing them, using scare tactics, or isolating them from friends who smoke is unlikely to produce the desired result. What does work to help teenagers who smoke? Here are some suggestions.
- Prevention is always the best defense against addiction. Have frequent conversations with your teenager about the power of nicotine addiction, and actively engage them in planning for the inevitable moment when they’ll be tempted (or even pressured) to try it.
- If your teenager is already smoking, sit down and have a serious conversation together. Answer questions and mis-perceptions they may have about the dangers and the way nicotine and other drugs in cigarettes are affecting their brain and other parts of their body.
- Rather than trying to impose your determined will on your teen who smokes, create a collaborative atmosphere. Find out when they’re most tempted to smoke. Role-play better responses when they’re offered a cigarette. Come up with healthier stress responses that make sense to your teenager.
- Once your teenager agrees give up the addiction to cigarettes, be prepared for a rough ride for awhile. Prepare your teenager for the experience of withdrawal. Explain what is happening in their brain and body, and give plenty of grace for their moodiness or snappy attitudes.
- Encourage healthy detox habits like drinking plenty of water and eating lots of fruits and vegetables. This will help your teenager’s body to recover much more quickly from the affects of smoking.
- If you’re a parent who smokes, STOP! You will be the most powerful influence on your teenager’s ability and willingness to create a new healthy habit when you are willing to do whatever it takes to end your own addiction.
- Get help. Individual responses to ending an addiction as powerful as to nicotine vary widely. Even teens who have not smoked long can experience intense withdrawal and may need more help than your support. Enlist the support of their doctor, peer group, and others.
- Make a grand adventure out of this process of becoming a non-smoker. Remind them frequently that the physical screaming from a brain deprived of the drug only lasts about a minute at a time. It will get better quickly!
- Finally, if they relapse, don’t let up on the encouragement to stop smoking. Teens have an especially difficult time sticking with their resolve to end a nicotine addiction. They don’t have the life experience of slogging through a tough time and getting to the other side. Give them your active encouragement!
There are numerous online resources available to help teenagers and young adults who have made the decision to become a non-smoker. Make use of them! Eighty percent of adults who smoke cigarettes began smoking before the age of 18. Today is the perfect day to become a proactive parent and help your teen stop smoking.
Where are you on the smoking subject? Current smoker wanting to quit? Frustrated parent of a smoking teenager? Smoking parent concerned that you won’t be able to quit yourself and that you’re setting the wrong example for your children? On your “never-smoked” soap box and not quite understanding the intense addiction of nicotine? Share your stories and struggles here so we can support each other!