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What is nicotine addiction?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Nicotine addiction occurs usually from smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products. The chemical nicotine activates pleasure centers in the brain, releasing dopamine and other chemicals that make you feel good. With repetition, pathways are created that connect smoking and the idea of "rewards." Changes take place in the brain that increase the sensitivity to nicotine in brain receptors. Basically, the more you smoke, the more your brain believes that you not only want, but need, to smoke.

Nicotine is an addictive drug, just like alcohol and illegal drugs can be. Addiction starts by using positive reinforcement; it works in areas of your brain that release chemicals that make you feel good when you use nicotine products, which then signal to different areas of your brain telling you to keep using them. Think about it like this: You eat a piece of chocolate (or other food you really like); it makes you feel good, so the next time you see a piece of chocolate, your brain remembers how that made you feel the last time and makes you crave it even more. This is what makes things like smoking and “chewing” so hard to quit.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Nicotine addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on the drug found in tobacco products. Experts agree that nicotine addiction is every bit as powerful as an addiction to alcohol or cocaine - and giving it up can be very difficult. When you decide to quit, you'll find you have lots of company. More than 38 million Americans have given up tobacco. They did it and so can you.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Nicotine addiction occurs when the body becomes accustomed to getting a regular dose of nicotine. Nicotine is found in the leaves of the tobacco plant. When a person chews, inhales, or smokes tobacco, it quickly enters the bloodstream and travels everywhere, including the brain. A person who smokes is as addicted to nicotine as a heroin addict is to heroin. It hijacks the cells and causes them to release chemicals involved in pleasure and mood. Without it, you end up experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. It is a sedative and stimulant all rolled into one. How long it takes for you to become addicted depends on your personal response to nicotine. But you can see signs of addiction two days after you inhale cigarette smoke for the first time. And addiction doesn't require you to do much. Just puffing on one or two cigarettes a day can make you an addict in no time.

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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.