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Understanding nicotine addiction

Learn how nicotine keeps a person coming back to tobacco again and again, despite the serious consequences.

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Of the 4,000+ compounds that are found in tobacco smoke there is only one that a smoker desires: nicotine. So how does nicotine keep a person coming back to tobacco again and again, despite the serious consequences.

Here's what happens:

  • Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, which gets into your lungs, is absorbed into your blood and quickly gets transported to your brain.
  • In the brain, nicotine stimulates the “pleasure/reward” centre, which you experience as positive feelings.
  • After you finished a cigarette, your body breaks down and eliminates nicotine so the levels of it in your blood and brain begin to decrease.
  • With less nicotine, the “pleasure/reward” centre is no longer stimulated and the positive feelings disappear. You experience this as negative feelings.
  • When you smoke another cigarette, nicotine returns to the brain and bad feelings disappear (momentarily) as the pleasure/reward centre is stimulated again.  
  • However, as soon as you put out your cigarette nicotine levels drop once more, negative emotions return and the cycle of smoking continues to relieve these emotions
  • You continue to smoke not to get good feelings, but to prevent bad feelings from happening.
  • When you quit smoking your brain goes back to normal and you won’t experience the emotional ups and downs in that nicotine created.

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