Webster's defines both the verb addict and the nouns addict and addiction consistently in two ways: one denotes a psychological dependence or devotion, the other physiological. We can distinguish between the two by using habit (psychological) and addiction (physiological). Habits don't require medical intervention to overcome. Addictions do.
So which applies to smokers? Heroin addicts become extremely ill when they withdraw. They normally require medical supervision, as do cocaine users. So do many alcoholics, who suffer DTs. Coffee drinkers get headaches. Smokers who quit merely become irritable for a few days. While some use nicotine patches, with mixed results, most smokers who quit successfully simply quit.
Dr. Jack Hennigfield of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and Dr. Neal Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) ranked several drugs on a scale of 1 to 6 (six being the least serious, 1 being the most) based on the following criteria: Withdrawl, Reinforcement, Tolerance, Dependence, and Intoxication.
Substance .... Wdl ... Rif ... Tol
Dep .. Intoxication
Nicotine ..... 3,3 ... 4,4 ... 2,4 ... 1,1 ...... 5,6
Heroin ....... 2,2 ... 2,2 ... 1,2 ... 2,2 ...... 2,2
Cocaine ...... 4,3 ... 1,1 ... 4,1 ... 3,3 ...... 3,3
Alcohol ...... 1,1 ... 3,3 ... 3,4 ... 4,4 ...... 1,1
Caffeine ..... 5,4 ... 6,5 ... 5,3 ... 5,5 ...... 6,5
Marijuana .... 6,5 ... 5,6 ... 6,5 ... 6,6 ...... 4,4
It is important to note that the "dependence" criterion is new. Prior to their report, addictiveness had been assessed based solely upon the other criteria. While the other four can be quantified to some extent, the dependency rankings were subjective, based upon the doctors' personal opinions and experience. The list they produced has nicotine at the top because it was sorted on the dependency column. Using any of the other criteria, nicotine ranks much lower or at the bottom.
Thus we can see that the very definition of addiction has been changed, not only in order to apply the label to nicotine but to characterize it as one of the most addictive drugs of all. But even the chart above suggests that any craving is not physiological, but psychological.
The pleasure of tobacco goes far beyond what nicotine does to the system. It's a way of life. What the smoker enjoys is the whole experience: the routine of handling the pack and the cigarette, lighting up, gazing into the flame, the oral satisfaction of drawing, the taste and the smell. Eating and drinking are synergistic with smoking: they each enhance the taste of the smoke, and smoking enhances the contemplation of the food and drink.
Nicotine plays a part, but a small one. It can no more substitute for a smoke than No-Doz tablets could replace a good cup of coffee. That's why nicotine patches and chewing gum aren't very effective when it comes to quitting. Of course it's hard to give up. So are many other things which are not physiologically addicting. Your right arm, for example. Or your spouse. If either is taken away you will experience a severe psychological withdrawal. Using "dependence" as a criterion, millions of people are addicted to Monday Night Football.
In the not-too-distant past, smokers would freely admit that they were addicted and even joke about needing a "fix". Now, however, the most many of them will admit to is a habit. Whether it's a habit or an addiction would be merely a semantic argument, except that most anti-smokers seem to think that addiction gives them the moral right to step in and pass laws or otherwise control the "addict's" behavior without his consent. It doesn't.
In the same way that the phrase "I could care less" came to mean, through common usage, "I couldn't care less," the meaning of the words "addict" and "addiction" have been fundamentally altered with recent usage. This is what they mean now:
ad-'dic-tion (n) a condition entitling those not affected by it to control those who are.
'ad-dict (n) one expected to surrender to the ministrations of those who despise him.