Why nicotine is so addictive

Ever wondered why cigarettes are so addictive? It’s because of the nicotine and what it does inside your body.

So let’s find out what happens from the moment you breathe in

What happens when you start smoking?1,2

Step 1: When you inhale on a cigarette, you inhale nicotine too. It moves from your mouth down into your lungs and from there, it enters your blood stream.

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Step 2: 10 seconds later, the nicotine has already reached your brain! It’s what happens next that is really interesting.

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Step 3: Nicotine attaches itself to the nicotine receptors, causing dopamine to be released. This is how you get hooked – dopamine makes you feel good… but not for long.

That ‘smokin’ feelin’ only lasts a few minutes. As soon as dopamine levels drop, you’ll probably feel like a smoke again.

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What happens when you keep smoking?1

Step 4: Your brain adapts by adding more nicotine receptors for the nicotine to attach to. This means that you need to smoke even more to get that same feel-good feeling.

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Step 5: If you don’t keep up those levels, then you’ll start to go through withdrawal. This means you might feel anxious, irritable or stressed, giving you the urge to smoke and experience that feel-good feeling. And so on it goes … the cycle continues.

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What happens when you quit smoking?3

Step 6: The nicotine receptors will gradually reduce over time, which means your urge to smoke will lessen and your withdrawal symptoms will begin to ease off.

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If you want to break the cycle and get complete freedom from nicotine, talk to your doctor about different options that can help you quit and go smoke (and nicotine) free.

©Pfizer 2019. Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-0829, 04/2019

1 Benowitz, N. (2010). Nicotine Addiction. New England Journal of Medicine, 362(24), pp.2295-2303.

2 Psychology Today. Nicotine. Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/nicotine. Accessed 8 March 2019.

3 NIDA. Abstinent Smokers' Nicotinic Receptors Take More Than a Month to Normalize. Available at from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2009/10/abstinent-smokers-nicotinic-receptors-take-more-than-month-to-normalize. Accessed 8 March 2019.