The Science of Nicotine Addiction
If you’re no stranger to smoking, then you’re probably pretty well acquainted with nicotine, too. It’s the chemical that makes your cigarettes so difficult to resist. Nicotine is the main reason for the physiological addiction to cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and other similar tobacco products.
But how exactly does nicotine cause addiction? The process is actually quite simple.
Step 1: Nicotine enters your body.
When you smoke or chew tobacco, you introduce nicotine into your bloodstream, which immediately absorbs it. If your delivery system of choice is a cigarette or a cigar, nicotine gets into your system through the lungs. Consuming tobacco orally or snorting it through your nose actually distributes more nicotine through your body compared to smoking.
Once it’s been properly absorbed by your bloodstream, nicotine takes only 8 to 20 seconds to start messing with your brain and its chemicals.
Step 2: Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline.
The first thing nicotine does to your brain is stimulate it. Adrenaline is then released, which in turn starts a chain reaction of physical and chemical reactions. Once they’re exposed to nicotine, adrenal glands start secreting more epinephrine, which is the same hormone that the body produces when it’s scared, stressed, or excited.
This is why smoking cigarettes can give you the feeling of a quick but intense rush. Your blood pressure and your heart rate briefly spike as adrenaline moves through your body. Your respiratory rate and glucose production temporarily increase, too.
Step 3: Nicotine causes the release of dopamine.
Aside from stimulating the release of adrenaline and epinephrine, nicotine also boosts the brain’s dopamine output. Dopamine is deeply related to pleasure, and humans have been found to respond to this chemical on a primal level. As dopamine is released in the brain, you’ll be overcome with pleasure and motivation. Experts say that the feeling of motivation it can cause plays a big role in the development of the addiction to nicotine.
Step 4: The cycle begins.
Nicotine can leave your body just as quickly as it’s absorbed. Of course, once the nicotine wears off, you come down from the high and you start craving for that pleasure again. Your body starts looking for that short-lived rush nicotine brings. The cravings start becoming so irresistible that you can’t help but smoke another cigarette, just to feel that rush of excitement and pleasure.
The funny thing is that the more nicotine your body absorbs, the larger the amount of nicotine you have to consume just to trigger that release of dopamine and to stimulate the pleasure and reward your body has come to expect from nicotine. Your brain’s dopamine receptors suffer from damage and start working inefficiently, so they absorb less dopamine. So even if you’re lighting up several cigarettes a day, your body just begs for more nicotine, since it’s not absorbing the amount it needs.
At this point, you can clearly see how nicotine can kick-start the cycle of addiction. Nicotine might not cause each health problem suffered by heavy users of tobacco, but it’s definitely responsible for most of these health problems.
Some quick facts about nicotine:
⦁ In 1828, a German doctor named Wilhelm Posselt and a German chemist named Ludwig Reinmann successfully extracted nicotine from tobacco and identified the substance. The two considered nicotine a poisonous substance.
⦁ In 1904, A. Pictet and P. Crepieux advanced nicotine study by leaps and bounds. The scientists succeeded in mapping out nicotine and synthesizing it.
⦁ Studies about the potential positive effects of nicotine on the human body are currently underway. Many researchers think that the drug can be of some benefit to mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
⦁ Nicotine is considered to be effective as an insecticide, as the tobacco plant is toxic to most insects.
⦁ Even the early Europeans had not been immune to nicotine addiction. Europeans first encountered the tobacco plant when they started settling in the Americas, and the newcomers quickly incorporated tobacco use into their daily lives. Europeans believed that the tobacco plant served many purposes, including curing headaches, calming nerves, and even keeping the plague at bay.
⦁ The hallucinogenic effects of nicotine and the tobacco plant have been well documented. Native American tribes have been using tobacco plants in religious ceremonies and rituals and adding it to concoctions they imbibed. The Native Americans also used the tobacco plant to combat arthritis, colds, and tooth pain. Some even placed tobacco along their gums to maximize tobacco’s healing effects.