Some new findings on Nicotine Addiction

Some new findings on Nicotine Addiction

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

14 Mar 2002, 21:37 #1

While the title may be a bit misleading--the article is pretty good.
From the Chicago Tribune

Experts say love of nicotine is all in mindBy Ronald Kotulak
Tribune science reporter

March 14, 2002

Working to unravel a long-standing puzzle of cigarette addiction, University of Chicago researchers have discovered why smoking is uniquely pleasurable and why nicotine has such ferociously addictive powers.

Published Thursday in the scientific journal Neuron, the research shows that nicotine not only stimulates pleasure in the brain's reward center but has the unique ability to neutralize the "off-switch" that usually throttles down good feelings quickly.

The finding provides major clues to understanding the complex process by which the brain becomes addicted to nicotine and opens new approaches to developing drugs to block nicotine's power to hijack the brain.

For the 2,000 teenagers a day who become smokers, the new evidence helps to explain how a single cigarette quickly teaches the brain cells of a first-time smoker to crave nicotine.

And for the more than 30 million American smokers who try to quit smoking each year and fail, the finding shows why breaking the habit is so hard.

The U. of C.'s Daniel S. McGehee and his colleagues showed how nicotine from a cigarette produces a high that can last up to an hour.

It does so first by quickly turning on the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain's reward center, something scientists have known for several years. But the dopamine surge ends quickly, and researchers couldn't figure out what caused nicotine's long-lasting high and its ability to induce addiction.

McGehee's finding shows for the first time that nicotine also acts on a group of regulatory cells whose job is to stop the dopamine high. With this control mechanism temporarily disabled, the reward system continues to operate long after it should have been shut down.

The result is a runaway feel-good sensation that the brain commits to its memory bank as something it wants more of.

"This gives an explanation for why the long high happens," said Dr. Glen Hanson, acting director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "It's a combination of tolerance happening to several systems at the same time. When you sum everything up, you get an enhancement of the dopamine pleasure pathway."

McGehee's detailed studies of rat brains revealed the step-by-step process by which nicotine takes over the brain's reward system. Neuronal pathways in that system were examined cell by cell to determine how they responded or failed to respond to individual neurotransmitters.

Drug companies have been hampered in their efforts to develop anti-addiction medicines because they didn't know how the brain became addicted, said John Dani, a Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist who was one of the first to show nicotine's effect on dopamine.

"Dan's work will allow both academic and pharmaceutical researchers to focus on the mechanisms of addiction with a greater understanding of how they work," Dani said.

The brain's reward system, scientists believe, is basically designed to help a person learn what is good for his survival and what is not.

It provides a wide range of sensations from euphoria to just plain feeling good. Experiences such as falling in love, getting a big promotion, coloring between the lines for the first time, seeing your baby's smile and winning the lottery promote some of the biggest dopamine jolts. Eating a good meal, making a new friend, taking a walk on the first morning of spring, working a crossword puzzle and other less intense learning experiences get less of the pleasure chemical.

"These really important events in our lives have a different quality to them that is imparted by the reward system," McGehee said. "What the drugs of abuse are doing is usurping that reward system."

Dopamine is carefully dispensed. A jolt makes a person feel good and helps lay down a memory of a new experience or reinforce an old one.

But dopamine is soon cut off, reducing the pleasurable effect to baseline levels. If it weren't turned down, dopamine would cause a constant feeling of being high, which would impede new learning and reduce the chance of survival.

"Nicotine acts as if it's reinforcing a behavior that should be rewarded," Dani said. "The brain is fooled into thinking that nicotine is a proper participant in life."

An estimated 57 million Americans smoke, which is linked to more than 400,000 deaths annually from cancer, heart attacks, strokes and emphysema. It is the nation's most preventable cause of death.

A cigarette contains about 10 milligrams of nicotine. About 1 to 2 milligrams get into the blood stream and hit the brain's reward center within 10 seconds after inhalation.

An average smoker takes 10 puffs per cigarette over a five-minute period. For a person who smokes 1 1/2 packs daily, his brain gets 300 hits of nicotine.

That nicotine plugs into receptor ports on brain cells stimulating the production of dopamine. Dopamine then turns the brain's pleasure center on.

At the same time, nicotine molecules plug into another set of inhibitory neurons, jamming their ability to turn off the pleasure center. The subsequent high lasts about an hour, the time it takes for nicotine in the blood to subside to the point where the inhibitory system can be reactivated.

"There's no other outcome than excitation when you've got nicotine in the system," he added. "It would be hard to design a drug that acts on the reward center that would be more effective than nicotine."

Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune ... news%2Dhed

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:59

14 Mar 2002, 21:43 #2

And a great way to start another nicotine free day!
Thanks Joel.
bronze plus +

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

14 Mar 2002, 22:03 #3

I remember in my early days of learning about other drug addictions, it became very obvious to me why crack cocaine was so addictive and why cocaine addicts would go through such great lengths and seemingly sacrifice everything in order to get the drug. It was capable of releasing so much dopamine that it was depleting the body's normal supply. Then when a person would do anything that would normally bring pleasure--with the minimal amount of dopamine left, normal activities that used to bring about pleasure seemed to become empty or meaningless. This is why people using cocaine found themselves losing interest in other things that should have been important--in a real sense--they were losing their ability to get pleasure out of pleasurable things.

It seems that this parallels to a degree what happens to smokers. Not only is nicotine releasing the same neurotransmitter, but it is impairing the mechanism to shut down the action of dopamine. Again, the end result is things that should be pleasurable will become a bit diminished by this chronic action.

The cost of such chronic pleasure is the minimizing of real life. That is what the real toll of smoking is--and the real benefit of quitting. Once again you can feel good from accomplishments. I think that is why people take greater pride in things after they quit.

I always joke with spouses who call me up saying they don't know what they can do to make their husband or wife quit smoking. They often ask me if they should threaten to leave the spouse if he or she doesn't quit. I always warn them to be careful when making such a threat. Giving a smoker a choice between take me or your cigarettes, you'd be surprised at how often "me" is going to be left behind.

Again, here you can see why. The normal pleasures brought about by a relationship are minimized if dopamine is in fact impaired--the smoker is in a sense incapable of feeling as good from a relationship or any other activity.

But the smoker needs to understand that to ever be able to fully appreciate life itself, they need to stop taking drugs that interfere with normal life pleasures. The answer is not to find a drug that works better. As this article so eloquently points out at the end, "It would be hard to design a drug that acts on the reward center that would be more effective than nicotine."

I suspect it could be done though--but the end result would just be another drug that is robbing the user of the ability to feel pleasure from pleasurable things. This in itself is robbing the user of the ability of a quality life.

Yes nicotine being delivered in a cigarette form is addictive and deadly. But even without the other chemicals additional health consequences--nicotine itself is robbing the individual of really experiences little life's pleasures--and this is a travesty in itself. Again, the solution is not another drug that is even better--the solution is to let your body get back to normal and never be thrown so off track again by knowing to never take another puff!


Chet Kast (Gold)
Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 18:58

14 Mar 2002, 22:08 #4

Hey Joel,

Thanks for this interesting and helpful article. This discovery really helps understand the tremendous addictive qualities contained in nicotine and how they react on the body. I can relate to everything that was said. I copied this article into my library for many future rereads.


Joanne Gold
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:58

14 Mar 2002, 22:20 #5

This really is something - I can't help but shake my head in wonder. Joel, thank you so much for providing us with such an enlightening education on
addiction.Image I immediately emailed this thread to family and friends who are still trapped. It is a shame that most will choose not to read it.Image


3 Plus Years Free

Joanne Gold
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:58

14 Mar 2002, 22:44 #6

Sorry, me again.Image It makes sense that in the beginning of my quit my emotions were a bit goofy. Perhaps it wasn't just the grieving process of a big change but adjusting to the "real me" or better yet, becoming comfortable with "true feelings". It actually felt good, an amazing transition. Many of us had been smoking since we were mere children and had no idea what those masked emotions felt like. I truly appreciate what I found.Image

Okay, I think I am finished now.Image

With much gratitude - JoanneImage

clean (bronze)
Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 19:34

14 Mar 2002, 22:48 #7

Thanks so much for sharing this article with us Joel. It is fascinating and yet, to someone who was in the grip of nicotine for so many years, not at all surprising. In fact, it certainly helps to explain a lot of what I felt and how I behaved when I was a smoker. Even more reason to be so glad I found this site and the courage to quit.

John (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

14 Mar 2002, 23:19 #8

Wow Joel! That's the best article find we've had in some time and look where it's from ---Image CHICAGO --- and the University of Chicago! Was the researcher a child of one of your early clinic participants? With your reinforcement articles laying around houses all over Chicago, I wouldn't be a bit surprised!

Slowly, the research is tying together. From your comments and articles like this it's getting easier to make sense of the findings of those scientists studying teen smoking and its relation to very early signs of chronic depression, in a frightening percentage of youth. We can hear and almost measure our lungs paying a terrible price, and we know that nicotine is clogging every major artery in our body, but what price is the brain paying? In some ways, I almost don't want to know ! Thanks Joel!
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long! John

GrumpyOMrsS (Gold)
Joined: 19 Dec 2008, 00:00

14 Mar 2002, 23:52 #9

Hi Joel,

My Hal went to a continuing education seminar last month and the speaker was a doctor who is an addictions expert and expert consultant to the state boards of phamacy and medicine. He spoke on how to spot or recognize patients who are addicted to prescription medications and how and why many drugs are so easily abused.

He also adressed nicotine and said basically what your articles above said....."there is NO other drug that affects the dopomine and other centers of the brain like nicotine. It creates pleasure, it destroys pleasure, it acts as a high and it acts as a depressant. It's ability to alter the mind is tremendous. It's ability to alter our body is yet another story.

thank you,
over 2 years free

improud (golder)
Joined: 19 Dec 2008, 00:00

14 Mar 2002, 23:55 #10

Image Being the addict that I am when I was in the smoking world, I never really realized that nicotine was giving me a "high" and that nicotine was masking my true feelings which at the time I didn't have a clue what my feelings were I just "needed that every 20 minute fix. How bizarre. Thanks Joel. I'm glad to now get my high from a nicotine free life. Cathy ~ GOLD CLUB