Monday, April 29, 2013

Giving up Smoking & Brain Chemistry

For smokers, quitting smoking can be a difficult and frustrating process filled with relapsing and irritability. That's because smoking, and more specifically nicotine, affects your brain chemistry and has been found to even change it. Find out more about the control nicotine can have on your brain and how even one puff affects its chemistry.

How Nicotine Works in Your Brain

Nicotine gets into your bloodstream through your lungs and it does this in a rapid 10 seconds after you inhale a puff of smoke. The basic makeup of nicotine is similar to a neurotransmitter already present in your brain called acetylcholine. Simply put, neurotransmitters are the messengers that transmit messages between nerve receptors in your brain. Nicotine gets into your brain's chemistry by attaching itself to acetylcholine, creating a sort of disguise allowing nicotine into your brain and leading to a series of chemical reactions.

Dopamine Pleasure

One way in which nicotine affects your brain is by increasing dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that causes feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Other drugs, such as cocaine, also have this effect but to a much stronger degree. With nicotine, the euphoric feelings last only a few minutes after a smoke, which is why smokers continue smoking more cigarettes. Their brains crave those pleasurable feelings, which can often lead to addiction.

Norepinephrine Focus

Norepinephrine is another chemical that is released by the rush of nicotine to your brain. Norepinephrine can cause a rush of alertness. It can also increase a person's ability to concentrate and respond, which is often why a jittery smoker will light up to calm down and focus.

Adrenaline Rush

Nicotine is also responsible for releasing adrenaline, thus creating a rush in your body similar to that of norepinephrine's effects. This is why when you smoke your heart rate and blood pressure rise and you get short of breath. Mixed with increased dopamine, the adrenaline can increase your level of euphoria for a few minutes.

Nicotine Withdrawal

As with other addictive drugs, when nicotine levels fall your brain craves more, which is how you can get addicted. Once you are addicted to nicotine your brain starts to experience withdrawal when it doesn't get its nicotine fix, thus smokers who are trying to quit will often experience symptoms of anxiety, edginess, insomnia and even depression.

Quitting the Addiction

Nicotine's effect on the brain is the main reason it is such a difficult drug to quit. There are numerous ways to quit, and their success varies from person to person, but they can include medication, therapy, hypnosis or self-help groups. The chances of quitting "cold turkey" are low because of nicotine's morphing effect on your brain chemistry. As you quit smoking, your brain struggles to readjust to life without nicotine, but because you know that nicotine would put a stop to the unpleasant symptoms, you are more likely to return to smoking to appease your struggling brain.

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