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Hookah, Tobacco and Addiction

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There is a direct link between tobacco addiction and substance abuse. Now, an old-world manner of smoking has found its way through Europe and the United States. Everywhere you look, hookah cafes are popping up. It is a misconception that smoking tobacco from a hookah, a glass, metal, or ceramic water pipe, is safer than smoking cigarettes. The tobacco, which is treated with glycerin and often flavored, sits under aluminum foil while charcoal burns above it. Both the tobacco and the charcoal are located outside of the hookah’s smoke chamber, but the smoke of the charcoal combines with the smoke of the tobacco and are drawn first into a water chamber and then through a tube into a person’s mouth and lungs. Many believe that the smoke is purified by the water in the smoke chamber, but this is not the case. Tobacco is toxic in any form. According to the Mayo Clinic, hookah smoke contains high levels of toxic compounds, including tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and cancer-causing chemicals. There is an increased possibility that those who do not smoke cigarettes but regularly smoke hookahs will develop tobacco dependence. The World Health Organization has released an advisory on the risks of water pipe smoking. The hookah user is exposed to more toxins that are contained in a cigarette while smoking from a hookah as well as while others inhale from a hookah, through secondhand smoke. The alert stated that

  • A typical hour-long waterpipe smoking session involves inhaling 100-200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette.
  • Charcoal and wood cinders used to keep the tobacco burning in a hookah contain additional toxins
  • Sweeteners and flavors make tobacco smoking attractive to young adults who might not otherwise start smoking tobacco.

Nicotine Addiction

According to the NIDA, 35 million Americans make a serious attempt to quit smoking each year. Most quit their attempt within the first week. It only takes a small amount of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, to become addicted. Furthermore, there are approximately 4,000 additional chemicals found in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic. Nicotine attaches itself to the acetylcholine receptors in the brain, resulting in an increase in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This, in turn, reduces MAO, an enzyme needed to break down dopamine in the brain. Thus, there is a buildup of dopamine in the brain, which is experienced by tobacco smokers as pleasure. Nicotine increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.

Nicotine Addiction and Substance Abuse

The National Household Survey, which measures alcohol and drug use among Americans, found that smokers are more likely to drink heavily and use illicit drugs than nonsmokers. In 2000, a research study found that 44% of cigarettes smokers suffer from a psychiatric or substance abuse disorder. Until recently, most drug or alcohol rehab centers had not paid much attention to the link between nicotine and other addictions. That reality is slowly changing as more research on drugs and brain function is defined and imaged. Interestingly, those who have stopped using drugs and alcohol but continue to smoke cigarettes are still altering the brain’s neurons and neurotransmitters. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics who still smoke cigarettes or tobacco increase their chances of relapse. A recovering addict under a great deal of subconscious stress may experience tobacco as a trigger to use. If you are using tobacco in addition to drugs or alcohol and are seeking substance abuse treatment, studies show that treatment is the perfect time to address all addictions. There is communal support for the effort to achieve sobriety, thus many treatment facilities are implementing nonsmoking rules. Reducing the number of triggers a recovering addict has to handle only improves the possibility of building a solid foundation for long-term recovery.

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