Nicotine is a chemical in cigarettes, pipe tobacco, cigars, and smokeless (chewing) tobacco. It is both a stimulant, which increases energy, and a sedative, which calms your child down.
Nicotine use disorder is a pattern of using tobacco that leads to serious personal, family, and health problems. The more of these statements that apply to your child, the more severe his nicotine use disorder is.
Nicotine use disorder may also be called dependence or addiction.
At first your child may use tobacco because it makes him feel good or because he wants to change something about his life. He may start smoking to fit in with friends who smoke. He may want to look cool, older, or rebellious. Or he may think it will help him relax and feel better.
The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Nicotine changes the balance of these chemicals in your child’s brain. When your child uses nicotine regularly, his brain starts to get used to it. As a result, he doesn't feel right unless he uses nicotine. When he stops using nicotine, the balance of chemicals in his brain changes, which causes the symptoms of withdrawal.
Your child may like the feel, smell, and sight of a cigarette and the ritual of handling, lighting, and smoking cigarettes. If your child tries to quit smoking, giving up these rituals may make withdrawal symptoms and cravings worse.
Most people who use tobacco start before age 18. Children who start smoking at a young age are less likely to quit when they become adults.
Signs of smoking may include:
If you notice these signs, it does not mean that your child is smoking regularly, but you should talk with your child.
When your child tries to quit using tobacco, he may have withdrawal that can be mild to severe. Symptoms your child may experience when he stops using nicotine include:
The symptoms of withdrawal may be very strong, especially during the first 72 hours after your child stops using tobacco. After the first 2 or 3 days the symptoms improve.
Nicotine use disorder can be treated. Your child must stop all use of tobacco, including smoking cigarettes or pipes, and chewing tobacco.
Your child’s healthcare provider may recommend nicotine replacements that can almost double the chances of quitting for good. You can buy nicotine gum, patches, or lozenges without a prescription. Nicotine replacement therapy lets your child slowly decrease the amount of nicotine in his system over time. Using a nicotine replacement may reduce cravings and ease physical symptoms. The dose of nicotine is slowly decreased over several weeks or months.
Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigs, are battery-operated devices that look like a cigarette or cigar. They make a smokeless vapor that the user inhales. The vapor contains many chemicals, and often contains nicotine. E-cigs are not a good way to quit smoking because:
Your child is more likely to succeed if he works to change his behavior as well as take medicine. Your child may want to join self-help groups such as Nicotine Anonymous or organized quit-smoking programs, or try individual therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps your child look at thoughts, beliefs, and actions, and understand which ones cause problems for him. Then your child learns to change unhealthy ways of thinking and acting.
Hypnosis and acupuncture may help some children to quit smoking.
If you use tobacco, get the support you need to quit. Nothing you say about tobacco will be as powerful as the example you set for your child.
If your child is using tobacco:
If your child is ready to quit, help him: