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What Causes Tobacco Addiction?
Nicotine alters a user’s brain chemistry so that they need regular doses of the chemical in order to feel well. Eventually, the brain builds a tolerance to nicotine, so the user is likely to need to smoke more in order to keep feeling well. Smoking is likely to cause addiction because it very quickly and directly introduces nicotine into the lungs, where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered directly to the brain within seconds of inhalation.
Once in the brain, nicotine triggers the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters, naturally occurring chemicals that help the brain’s nerve cells communicate with one another. One particular neurotransmitter, called dopamine, stimulates parts of the brain that produce feelings of well-being, happiness, or even euphoria. The result is a quick, intense “high” that makes the user associate smoking with good feelings.
The high associated with nicotine happens quickly, but it also dissipates quickly, much more so even than the high associated with other addictive drugs. The fleeting euphoria drives the user to continue smoking in order to maintain the good feeling. Regular tobacco use also alters the brain circuitry that controls learning, stress, and impulse control. These changes can contribute to withdrawal symptoms.
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