By Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and the VisualMD.com
Each year, nearly 450,000 Americans die from smoking related illnesses. That’s more than all deaths from HIV/AIDS, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined. So why do smokers continue to light up when statistics like these make it clear that they should quit? Nicotine addiction is powerful, which makes quitting difficult–but it is possible. There are now 45 million smokers, but 47 million successful quitters. By understanding nicotine addiction and withdrawal, you can be better prepared to crush out this destructive habit for good.
Understanding the Addiction
When you smoke, nicotine speeds to receptors that trigger the release of dopamine, your body’s feel-good chemical. Nicotine causes dopamine to be released in several parts of the brain: the mesolimbic pathway, the corpus striatum, the nucleus accumbens and the frontal cortex (highlighted above). Over time, the receptors where nicotine can connect become desensitized. This means that they lose some of their ability to send signals that result in the release of dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. As a result, more nicotine receptor sites are created. The overall effect is that smokers who have developed additional receptors need more nicotine to avoid having withdrawal symptoms.