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How does nicotine work?

Nicotine, a liquid alkaloid, occurs naturally in the tobacco plant. Alkaloids are organic compounds. They are made of nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon and at times, oxygen. They are chemicals and they have big impacts on the human body.

When you smoke, about 1 mg of nicotine goes into your bloodstream. The chemical then takes an express train straight to your brain.

Nicotine also has other effects on the body that make it hard to give up:

  • It heightens the activity in the cholinergic pathways throughout your brain. It improves reaction time and focus; thus making you feel sharper and more on the ball.
  • It releases dopamine in the pathways of your brain that reinforce survival behaviors, such as eating and sleeping. Stimulating this area of the brain brings on the kind of pleasant feelings that make you want to do something again. When nicotine activates these reward pathways, it boosts your desire to smoke again because it makes you feel so happy afterwards.
  • It increases endorphin levels in your body. These small proteins act as the body's natural pain killers. An abundance of endorphins can produce feelings of euphoria. Runners often experience this kind of endorphin rush, which is commonly called a "runner's high."

In the end, nicotine use makes you crave it more-convincing your body that you feel better, which leads to both psychological and physical addiction.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.