Tobacco is an incredibly addictive substance. Studies show that smoking tobacco can be Addictive like heroin and cocaine (Opens in a new tab)But what makes people crave cigarettes? And why do so many people struggle to quit smoking despite knowing the dangers?
The answer is that tobacco changes the way our brain works and makes us want more. US Food and Drug Administration (Opens in a new tab) (FDA)
“Addiction is primarily defined as a loss of control over substance use and continued use despite its effects,” Bernard Le Faull, chair of addiction psychiatry at the University of Toronto, told Live Science in an email.
“Once addicted to a substance, people experience cravings and/or withdrawal when they don’t use it for a period of time. Tobacco is addictive because it contains nicotine, a psychoactive substance with high addictive potential,” Le Faull said.
Related: How does cannabis get you high?
How psychoactive substances work in the brain National Cancer Institute (Opens in a new tab) (NCI), “causes changes in mood, cognition, thinking, feeling, or behavior.” Other examples of psychoactive substances include LSD, alcohol, and caffeine.
Nicotine is addictive especially when smoked or taken in other ways Lungs That’s because “the onset of stimulant-like effects occurs very quickly with this route of administration,” David Ledgerwood, a clinical psychologist in the Department of Substance Abuse Research at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, told Live Science in an email.
While the initial “hit” of smoking is immediate, it wears off quickly, which, according to Ledgerwood, leads smokers to consume tobacco products again and again in order to get “the same stimulating experience.”
When you eat tobacco, nicotine Increase levels in blood circulation (Opens in a new tab) And enter the brain. After entering the cerebrum, nicotine binds to and activates the receptors that release the “happy” brain chemical dopamine, making people feel good. Mayo Clinic (Opens in a new tab). Because of this, the smoker’s brain quickly considers nicotine as a “feel good”, and makes them crave it in between cigarettes.
Chronic cigarette smoking increases the number of nicotine receptors in the brain, which explains why addicted smokers have “billion more receptors than nonsmokers,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
If a person smokes regularly for months or years, the brain becomes accustomed to nicotine, and eventually “they need nicotine to function properly,” Ledgerwood said. During periods when an addicted individual does not smoke, they may experience withdrawal symptoms until their brain adjusts to the absence of nicotine. Symptoms such as inability to concentrate, insomnia, depression and loss of appetite; According to the NCI (Opens in a new tab).
This, among other reasons, explains why many smokers struggle to quit, Ledgerwood said.
“On top of this physiological effect, given that cigarettes are legal at any gas station or corner store and can still be smoked in a variety of places, it becomes incredibly difficult for someone who wants to quit smoking to do so,” Ledgerwood added.
According to the FDA, people who start using tobacco products as children or teenagers have a harder time quitting, especially since nicotine exposure disrupts brain development. And it’s easy for young smokers to get hooked; Brain imaging studies show that while the reward systems in the brain mature early, the control center in the prefrontal cortex matures more slowly in the 2000s. Views of Cold Spring Harbor in Medicine (Opens in a new tab). “Compared to adults, adolescents are more reward-motivated, less risk-averse, and more easily influenced by their peers,” the report said.
Are some people prone to addiction?
But are some people more prone to addiction than others? Does everyone have the same difficulty quitting smoking, or do some find it easier to go cold turkey?
“I don’t believe people are immune to addiction,” Ledgerwood said. “Some people may be more susceptible to addiction than others, and it certainly seems that exposure to addictive substances at a young age increases a person’s risk of developing addiction.”
Fagerström test for nicotine dependence (Opens in a new tab)In the year Developed by Swedish psychologist Karl-Olov Fagerström in 1978, it is a questionnaire used to determine an individual’s level of nicotine dependence with smoking. The test has gone through several iterations since its introduction, but is still in use today, and is still one of the primary ways to assess addiction. Questions in the test include asking when an individual smokes their first cigarette of the day, how many cigarettes they smoke each day, and whether they smoke until they are very ill while confined to their bed.
When a person scores particularly high on this test, it may be because the body craves more frequent hits of nicotine. “For many people who smoke, there are powerful factors that contribute to their smoking,” Ledgerwood said. “These individuals often grow up in homes where parents smoke, and the behavior is modeled on them.
“Cigarettes are still readily available in many places, and despite the restrictions on where people can smoke, there are still many opportunities for people to smoke in public. There are still many images of smoking in popular culture (movies, television shows). This contributes to the perception that smoking is a normal and perhaps attractive behavior. It can,” he added.
Moreover, studies show that genetic factors play a role in nicotine dependence, which means that addiction can run in families, according to a 2010 journal review. Current cardiovascular risk reports (Opens in a new tab). The Mayo Clinic explains that genetics “can affect how the receptors on the neurons in your brain respond to the high doses of nicotine that cigarettes give,” meaning that, due to genetic inheritance, after people start smoking, some are more likely to smoke. He is more likely to continue the habit than others. According to a 2008 study American Psychological Association (Opens in a new tab)“At least half of a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”
Although there are many dangers associated with smoking, and although it is thought that it can lead to death 8 million people (Opens in a new tab) Globally – including 1.2 million people who are exposed to cigarette smoking every year – tobacco is widely and easily accessible.
However, although addiction occurs quickly, so do the health benefits once a person quits. According to the Mayo Clinic, within 20 minutes of smoking a cigarette, Heart beat decreases; In 12 hours, toxic gas levels Carbon The monoxide in the blood returns to normal; in three months, Lung Function and blood circulation improves; And after one year, the risk is a heart The attack is reduced by half.
Originally published on Live Science.