Brain Neurochemistry Explanations: Nicotine Addiction
Brain neurochemistry explanations for nicotine addiction focus on how the chemical processes associated with nicotine, the primary active substance in tobacco, affect the brain. Nicotine activates the brain's 'reward pathways,' which regulate feelings of pleasure. When nicotine attaches to neurons in the ventral tegmental area, it triggers the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, generating a sense of pleasure. Additionally, nicotine stimulates the release of glutamate, another neurotransmitter, which further triggers dopamine release. The temporary pleasure caused by dopamine release creates a desire to keep using nicotine throughout the day to maintain the same pleasurable feeling. Continual activation of dopamine-enhancing neurons leads to changes in their sensitivity to nicotine, resulting in tolerance, dependency, and addiction.