Nicotine activates the pleasure center of the brain. Within 10 seconds of inhaling a puff on a cigarette nicotine levels peak in the brain. The average smoker takes about 10 puffs on every cigarette smoked. Since the pleasurable effects of nicotine are short-lived the smoker soon craves another cigarette. If one cigarette supplies ten surges of nicotine to the brain, smoking 1½ packs of cigarettes a day provides a smoker 300 nicotine hits. Since cigars and pipe smokers usually do not inhale, their nicotine must be absorbed through the mucosal membranes in the mouth. The mucosal membranes are also the entrance way for nicotine delivered from smokeless tobacco. These other forms of tobacco use may not delivery their nicotine fix as efficiently as a cigarette, but it is delivered.
Some smokers say that smoking relaxes them while others say that it gives them a boost. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, nicotine does both—acting as both a stimulant and a sedative. A hit of nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands which cause a release of adrenaline. This release of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes a release of glucose, as well as an increase in respiration, blood pressure and heart rate. Meanwhile insulin output is suppressed which leaves smokers with slightly elevated levels of glucose in their bloodstream. Nicotine also causes the release of dopamine in the part of the brain that controls pleasure and motivation. A similar effect is caused by cocaine and heroin and is believed to be behind the pleasurable sensations reported by many smokers. Nicotine is also able to cause a sedative (calming) effect depending on a smoker’s nervous system arousal and how much nicotine is taken. These effects occur with the use of all tobacco products; cigarette smoking merely provides the most rapid dosing.
Frequent use of tobacco products results in addiction to nicotine. Repeated exposure to nicotine results in the development of tolerance for the drug. As tolerance is build it takes a higher dose of the drug to produce the same level of stimulation. Nicotine is metabolized rapidly which means it disappears from the body in a few hours. Thus morning doses of nicotine have a greater physiological effect on the body than those occurring later in the day because of a period of abstinence during the night.
The addictive properties of nicotine contribute significantly to the difficulty tobacco users have in giving up the habit. The withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing nicotine use can be challenging and often drive people back to tobacco use.
Psychological factors also influence the difficulty experienced by a user trying to break an addiction to tobacco. The pleasurable consequences of smoking are considerable and they affect not only the body but also the mind. While we rarely think of tobacco use as an addiction of the same caliber as a craving for cocaine or heroin, tobacco’s legal status does not prevent it from being highly addictive. Nicotine is a drug. The initial high from obtaining a hit of the substance relieves the immediate craving for the drug, which may be followed by the user feeling calm and relaxed. Unfortunately this satisfaction is very short-lived and a new craving quick to develop. A person attempting to quit smoking will miss the boost a cigarette gives them and/or the calming effect they perceive. Tobacco has become a dependable friend.
Psychologically, when you quit using tobacco you may go through a period of mourning for your longtime friend. Dr. Kübler-Ross analyzed the stages that human beings go through when in grief. The stages are: denial, bargaining, anger, sadness (depression), guilt and acceptance. It is definitely not an indictment of you if you miss smoking as a kind of friend and companion. It has been a big part of your life for a long time. Be kind to yourself if you have these feelings; they are part of being human. Work through the stages and they will set you free to go on as a non-smoker. Think positively. You can do this.