You’re addicted to nicotine
By Smokefree Team
Nicotine addiction is the reason why you smoke. It wasn’t the reason why you tried those first ever puffs of a cigarette, but after trying it out you became hooked (addicted) because of nicotine. If cigarettes did not contain nicotine, then nobody would smoke.
Nicotine is addictive, but it’s not the nicotine in cigarettes that causes the damage but many of the other thousands of chemicals in a cigarette.
Dopamine and the reward pathway
When you take a drag or puff on your cigarette, nicotine within the smoke enters your lungs and is rapidly absorbed into your blood. Within 10 seconds of inhaling, the nicotine travels to your brain where it binds to nicotine receptors, causing the release of a brain chemical called ‘Dopamine’. Dopamine is a ‘reward’ neurotransmitter, a “feel good” chemical. Our brains will learn that every time we puff on a cigarette, we get a little release of this ‘feel good’ chemical which motivates us to take another puff or light up.
As a result of this dopamine mechanism, we develop a learned response to the rewarding effects of smoking. When we quit there may be certain scenarios or situations where we have created associations and therefore learned to light up and get our ‘reward’.
Examples include: –
- When we’re stressed
- When we are around smokers
- Under the influence of alcohol
This reward and learning pathway happens unconsciously undermining a smokers ability to make rational choices. Because nicotine is excreted from the body so rapidly, withdrawal happens quickly leading to the desire to smoke again.