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Friday, May 16, 2008

What's in the mind of a smoker?

The brain of an addicted smoker treats nicotine as if it is essential for survival.

Genetic traits may predispose some smokers to stronger addiction.

Most smokers try to quit unaided, resulting in a high failure rate.

If you smoke, no one needs to tell you how bad it is. So why haven’t you quit? Why hasn’t everyone?

Because smoking feels good. It stimulates and focuses the mind at the same time that it soothes and satisfies. The concentrated dose of nicotine in a drag off a cigarette triggers an immediate flood of dopamine and other neurochemicals that wash over the brain’s pleasure centers. Inhaling tobacco smoke is the quickest, most efficient way to get nicotine to the brain.

“I completely understand why you wouldn’t want to give it up,” said Dr. David Abrams, an addiction researcher at the National Institutes of Health. “It’s more difficult to get off nicotine than heroin or cocaine.”

Smoking “hijacks” the reward systems in the brain that drive you to seek food, water and sex, Dr. Abrams explained, driving you to seek nicotine with the same urgency. “Your brain thinks that this has to do with survival of the species,” he said.

Nicotine isn’t equally addictive for everyone. A lot of people do not smoke because they never liked it to begin with. Then there are “chippers,” who smoke occasionally but never seem to get hooked. But most people who smoke will eventually do it all day, every day.

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