How addicted are you to cigarettes (1)?

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The central defining characteristic of addiction to a substance is a strong compulsion to use the substance when the person tries to abstain. Many of us like to do things like play golf, eat potato chips, or drink fruit juice. But if for some reason we couldn’t do those things for a couple of weeks, we might think it was a bit of a pity but we wouldn’t have much difficulty in not doing/consuming those things. Tell an alcoholic they can’t drink alcohol for two weeks or a heavy smoker they can’t smoke for two weeks and it's quite a different matter. The smoker will be thrown into a panic at just the thought of not smoking for such a long time, and during that time will find him/herself having frequent thoughts about smoking and urges to smoke. In addition, they will experience mood disturbances, poor concentration, insomnia and increased appetite caused by nicotine withdrawal. Less than half of smokers who decide to quit last for the first week after an unaided quit attempt, and less than 5% last for a year.

So if any of this sounds familiar to you, then you are at least somewhat addicted to tobacco. Of course some smokers have never had a proper quit attempt or had to abstain for a long period of time. So how would they know if they were addicted? The answers to a few key questions have been shown to provide a fairly accurate measure of tobacco addiction, even without knowing the person’s quit history. The first question is the most obvious one:

How many cigarettes do you smoke per day?

It is clear that smokers who smoke less than 5 cigarettes per day have less difficulty quitting than those smoking 15 per day, who find it easier to quit than those who smoke 25 or more per day. Nowadays, with cigarettes being so expensive and there being so many places one can’t smoke, I’d say that anyone smoking over a pack a day is likely to be extremely addicted, and anyone smoking 10 or more per day is likely to be moderately addicted.

The next key question is slightly less obvious.

When you wake in the morning, how long is it before you light up your first cigarette?

People who light up within 5 minutes are extremely addicted, 5-30 minutes are highly addicted, and 31-119 minutes moderately addicted. People who regularly don’t smoke within the first two hours of waking in the morning are only mildly addicted, if at all. Very recently it has become clear that waking at night to smoke is also a marker of being highly addicted.

Do you sometimes awaken at night to smoke?

If you answer “yes” to this question this is also a sign of being highly addicted. Being addicted does not mean you can’t quit. It just means that it won’t be as easy as stopping eating potato chips might be. It also means that to have a good chance of success, a quit attempt will need to be taken seriously and should include an FDA-approved cessation medication.
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About the Author


MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.

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