Why Is Nicotine So Addictive?

When we use nicotine, it is first absorbed into the bloodstream, and then makes its way to the brain. Within seconds of inhaling or chewing, nicotine releases a chemical called dopamine in the same regions as other addictive drugs.

Dopamine gives us feelings of pleasure, motivation and reward. Along with other chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, it plays a vital role in how happy we feel. In addition to our mood, dopamine also affects movement, memory, and focus.  As humans, our brains are hard-wired to seek out behaviors that release dopamine to make us feel good. When you’re doing something pleasurable, your brain releases a large amount of dopamine. Think of when you first fall in love. That is a huge dopamine release. Even baking cookies, and of course eating them, causes a dopamine release.  You feel good and you seek more of that feeling. Over time, the brain begins to crave that feeling from nicotine and people need to use more and more to get that same good feeling. What happens with long-term nicotine use is the dopamine receptors in the brain quit functioning properly. A lot of the studies done on nicotine use show this contributing to depression.  We found it interesting that these studies also show that people who start out with depression tend to smoke more to get that feel good dopamine release.

The great news is that about ninety days after quitting nicotine use, those receptors begin to repair themselves, and we’re back on track for happiness and pleasure.