Addictions and Smoking

Addiction affects people regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, culture, education, or occupation.

What is Addiction?

An addiction is usually defined as a situation in which a person uses a substance or engages in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences. Most often the person with the addiction does not have control over what they are doing, taking, or using.  An addiction may refer to a substance dependence (e.g., drug addiction) or behavioral addiction (e.g., gambling addiction).

Psychological dependency, as may be the case with gambling, sex, internet, work, or exercise, should also be considered an addiction because these activities can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, despair, failure, rejection, anxiety, and/or humiliation.

Signs and Symptoms

  • The person takes the substance and cannot stop - At least one serious attempt was made to give up, but without success.

  • Withdrawal symptoms – such as cravings, bouts of moodiness, bad temper, poor focus, a feeling of being depressed and empty, frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment, insomnia, constipation or diarrhea, violence, trembling, seizures, hallucinations, and sweats.

  • Addiction continues despite health problem awareness - The individual continues taking the substance regularly, even though they have developed illnesses linked to it.

  • Social and/or recreational sacrifices - Activities are given up because of an addiction to a substance. For example, an addict may turn down an invitation to go camping if the substance will not be available.

  • Excess consumption - Consuming a large amount of the substance.

  • Taking risks - The addicted person may take risks to make sure he/she can access his/her substance, such as stealing or trading sex for money or the drug of choice. While under the influence of a substance the individual may partake in risky activities such as driving fast.

  • Dealing with problems - A person with an addiction often feels they need their drug to deal with problems.

  • Obsession - An addicted individual may spend more time and energy focusing on ways of getting their substance and how to use it.

  • Secrecy and solitude - Taking the substance alone or secretively.

  • Denial - Not being aware a problem exists or refusing to admit it.

  • Dropping hobbies and activities - The person may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy doing.

  • Having stashes - Addicted individuals may have their substance hidden in different parts of the house or car.

  • Having problems with the law - Can either be because the substance impairs judgment and the person takes risks they would not take if they were sober or breaking the law as a way of getting the substance.

  • Financial difficulties - The addicted person may sacrifice a lot to make sure their supply is secured.

  • Relationship problems - Conflicts with significant others (romantic relationships, siblings, parents, and friends).

Risk Factors

  • Relationship problems - Conflicts with significant others (romantic relationships, siblings, parents, and friends).

  • Genetics/family history - Anyone who has a close relative with an addiction problem has a higher risk of developing one themselves.

  • Gender - Males are at a greater risk than females.

  • Family behavior - People who do not have strong relationships with their parents and siblings have a higher risk of becoming addicted to a substance compared to people with deep family attachments.

  • Stress - Exams, death of others, moving, etc.

  • Having a mental illness/condition.

  • Peer pressure - Attempting to fit in.

  • Loneliness - Away from home for the first time or having trouble meeting people.

  • The nature of the substance - Some substances, such as crack, heroin, or cocaine can bring about addiction more quickly than others.

  • Age when substance was first consumed - Individuals who consume a drug earlier in life have a higher risk of becoming addicted than those who started later.


  • Health - Addiction to a substance can have health consequences. Negative health impacts vary depending on the substance.

  • Coma, unconsciousness, or death - Some drugs taken in high doses or in combination with other substances may be extremely dangerous.

  • Some diseases - People who inject drugs and share needles risk contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. Some substances can lead towards risky sexual behavior (e.g., unprotected sex), increasing the probability of developing sexually transmitted infections.

  • Relationship problems.

  • Accidental injuries/death - Higher in individuals with addictions.

  • Suicide - Certain addictions can significantly increase the risk of suicide.

  • Child neglect/abuse - Certain addictions in parents increase the likelihood that their children will experience neglect and/or abuse.

  • Unemployment, poverty, and homelessness - A significant number of people with addiction find themselves without work or a place to live.

  • Problems with the law.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for addiction depend on several factors including what type of substance the individual is addicted to and how it affects them. Treatment can include a combination of inpatient and outpatient programs, counselling, self-help groups, pairing with individual sponsors, and medication. A health care professional can recommend the best treatment options for each individual person suffering from addiction.

  • Treatment programs - These usually focus on getting sober and preventing relapse. Individual, group, and/or family sessions may be part of the program. Depending on the level of addiction, patient behaviors, and type of substance these programs may be in outpatient or residential settings.

  • Counselling - May be individual and/or family sessions with a specialist. Family involvement can increase the success of treatment. Dealing with relapses, coping with cravings and avoiding the substance are often focuses of therapy.

  • Self-help groups - These groups help the individual meet other people with the same problem and are also a source of education and information. Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

  • Help with withdrawal symptoms - The main goal is often to get the addictive substance out of the person’s body. The addict may be given gradually reduced dosages (tapering) or in some cases a substitute substance is given. Treatment can be either outpatient or inpatient.

Why Is It so Hard to Quit Smoking?

Nicotine is responsible for making cigarettes addictive. It makes your body crave more cigarettes because, over time, the body builds up a tolerance to nicotine, thereby making you more physically dependent and emotionally addicted to the substance. Once inhaled, the nicotine is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream - increasing your heart rate and blood pressure - as well as stimulating the nervous system. When you try to cut back or quit, you potentially go into withdrawal due to the absence of nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include depression, feelings of frustration, impatience, anger, anxiety, and irritability.

Smoking Cessation Products

Nicotine Replacement Theory

There are different forms of nicotine replacement therapy that are available without a prescription. They include nicotine gum, lozenge, spray inhalers, or patches. All are equally effective smoking cessation products but each offers their own unique benefits depending on your preference and level of nicotine addiction. It is important to talk to a healthcare professional to find out which one is best suited for you.


A prescription medication covered by the U of S student drug plan. It works on the reward/pleasure part of the brain as nicotine does, thereby reducing cravings. However, you still require willpower to quit successfully.


A prescription medication covered by the U of S student drug plan. It works by stimulating the nicotine receptors in the body, as nicotine does, thereby reducing the desire and need to smoke. If you have other medical conditions it is best to discuss with your doctor which product is best for you.

Herbal Products, Hypnosis, and Acupuncture

These methods have all worked for some quitters. Learn more about these methods and discuss them with your pharmacist or health care provider before using them.


The safety of e-cigarettes has NOT been scientifically demonstrated.

Nicotine and other chemical content amounts vary a lot between brands. Thus, smokers are not aware of how much hazardous material is inhaled. Most e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol which is a respirator system irritant.

Instead of burning dry tobacco leaves (along with a host of other chemicals), the e-cigarette vaporizes a liquid solution. This liquid solution comes in nicotine added or nicotine-free and comes in an array of flavors. Since e-cigarettes release vapor instead of smoke, it has been allowed in public areas that would otherwise ban smoking.

Bottom Line on E-cigarettes

  • The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it you may get withdrawal symptoms.

  • Evidence (to date) suggests that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking cigarettes, but not as safe as not smoking.

  • Long-term risks of e-cigarettes have not been determined.

  • E-cigarettes could be a “gate-way drug,” leading to a new popularity of smoking.

  • If you are trying to quit smoking by using e-cigarettes, you are better off with a pharmacist-approved method of quitting.

  • Seek professional advice.

Supports When Ready to Quit Smoking

Some people are able to quit on their own, but many struggle to break the cycle. Fortunately, the most successful approach to quitting smoking involves a smoking cessation program. These plans help you deal with physical, behavioral, and physiological aspects of the habit.

Pharmacists provide free counselling and support using the PACT smoking cessation program (www.makeapact.ca). Drop in or make an appointment with the pharmacists at the U of S Campus Medicine Shoppe in Place Riel who are trained in PACT.

Smoker’s Helpline is a free, confidential service operated by the Canadian Cancer Society where they offer support and information about quitting smoking and tobacco use including an online quit program and one-on-one guidance with a Quit Coach. Call (1-877-513-5333) or visit the Smoker’s Helpline website.


On Campus

Off Campus

  • Saskatoon Health Region Addition Services: 306-655-4100
  • Saskatoon Health Region Tobacco Cessation Services: 306-655-4100
  • Community Addictions Services: 306-655-7777
  • Saskatchewan HealthLine: 811
  • Smoker's Helpline: 1-877-513-5333


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