By Danelle Carvell
Four years. That's how long it took for Dana to make the connection between her husband, Jack's moodiness and his addiction to nicotine. His hateful tantrums usually surfaced in the morning. One morning he went into a rage over the way Dana had hung his shirts in the closet.
"I was half asleep when I heard him ranting and felt him slapping something at my feet," she said. His dark eyes wild with anger, Jack was throwing his shirts on top of the bed and slap-ironing them with his hands. "My first wife wouldn't have hung shirts so sloppy," he snarled.
Dana came close to leaving her husband that morning. He said the most hurtful things when he was grouchy. "What was it about mornings that made him so irritable?" she wondered. Then she did some research on the behavioral effects of nicotine and discovered that anger and irritability are common when nicotine levels drop and the user craves another "hit."
That explained why mornings were Jack's moodiest time. He had gone all night without the drug in his body. "The regular smoker needs nicotine to maintain normal moods and suffers from unpleasant feelings of irritability between cigarettes, when nicotine levels are falling," says Psychologist Andy Parrot, PhD. "If the smoker doesn't get his "hit" the result is nervousness, bad temperament, cold sweat, insomnia, yearning and inability to concentrate.
When Dana realized that nicotine was causing her husband's mood swings, she was determined to preserve his health and their marital happiness. She threw all his cigarettes in the garbage and made him choose between his wife and his habit. Fortunately Jack chose his slender, red-haired wife and his morning tantrums stopped. "If I were single now, I wouldn't give a smoker the time of day," said Dana. "Suffering from the effects of nicotine addiction can be avoided simply by choosing a man who isn't addicted."
Women are equally affected by nicotine. This psychoactive drug produces transient dose-related changes in mood and feeling. Scientists have found evidence that heroin cocaine and nicotine affect the same part of the brain. At times tobacco can act as a stimulant, raising blood pressure and heart rate. At other times it may produce tranquilizing effects. But many people don't consider the nicotine in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco a drug. They don't realize the connection between behavior and nicotine.
Lisa and Rick are both smokers. They've smoked since they were teenagers. When they met and married in their early thirties, what was once an occasional indulgence had grown into a pack-a-day habit for both of them. Five years into the marriage, Rich developed a problem that neither one of them related to smoking. This handsome, muscular man couldn't keep an erection. At times he couldn't even get one. "I begged him to see a doctor, but he was too embarrassed," said Lisa. "Our sex life became non-existent withing two years and I became angry because he refused to do anything about it.
If Rick's impotence was caused by smoking, chances are he couldn't have done anything about it at that point. "Smoking is one of the worst things a man can do to his body," says Denver urologist Lawrence Karsh, MD. "Over many years, smoking can damage and block blood vessels inside the penis, resulting in failure to sustain a normal erection." In many cases, the damage cannot be reversed and the result is impotence. Research shows that smoking may be the most preventable cause of impotence. It is surprising that impotence is not cited more often as a persuasive reason for giving up smoking.
When Rick later developed stomach cancer, Lisa reached the breaking point and filed for divorce. "We had drifted so far apart, I didn't even know him anymore," she said.
Taryn and Carl were happily married for two years. She smokes; he doesn't. This difference between them was never a problem, until Taryn became pregnant. Eight months into her pregnancy when she quit her job, she began smoking even more. As soon as Carl came home from work and smelled cigarettes, he threw a fit. What was once an anticipated event, seeing each other at the end of the day, became a dreadful ritual that included screaming, door slamming, and one or both of them walking out and staying away for hours. "I couldn't wait for the baby to be born so things could get back to normal," Taryn said.
Taryn wasn't willing to change her lifestyle, and Carl couldn't understand why she cared so little about their child. Their resentment toward each other smothered what should have been a joyful time of shared excitement. "I guess Carl assumed that I would quit smoking if I got pregnant, but this wasn't something we planned. I'm just not ready to give up cigarettes. They help me to cope, and I'm really going to need them when I'm a full-time mother," Taryn said.
When the couple brought their son home, Carl handed Taryn a stack of pamphlets about the dangers of secondhand smoke. When she refused to read them, he followed her around the house and read them to her.
"Secondhand smoke makes children more susceptible to allergies, asthma, heart problems, ear infections, coughs, and sudden infant death syndrome," he lectured. "There is also suggestive evidence linking exposure to tobacco smoke and childhood cancer."
After a week of Taryn's refusal to give up cigarettes once the baby was born, Carl grabbed his son from a sound sleep and went to live at his mother's house."Now my son is no longer with me and my husband is disgusted by me," said Taryn. "All because of a habit I can't break, something he knew about me when he married me."
Carl's actions may sound extreme, but a baby's lung tissue can be seriously damaged by exposure to cigarette smoke. Children of smokers are hospitalized more frequently for bronchitis and pneumonia during the first year of life and they develop more respiratory illness before the age of two. Children exposed to secondhand smoke also perform more poorly in school. They have lower scores in language and auditory processing tests and they have more behavioral problems including conduct disorders, hyperactivity, and decreased attention spans.
Frequent trips to the doctor, more days absent from school and work, behavioral problems and learning problems are some of the hassles that could await a parent who forces her child to live in a smoke-filled home. And perhaps the worst affect on children: a child with a parent who smokes is more likely to become a smoker also. The cycle continues and sometimes it can only be broken by the tough love of someone who cares.
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This article is a dramatization of both real and fictional characters, but the health information is all real. Names were changed to protect identities.