Medicine helps snuff out smoking habit

Posted on 10 February 2011 by admin

Back when I was a fiscally struggling undergrad (my, how things don’t change), I took a series of lab-rat gigs at VCU. The money wasn’t great, but it paid out right away and I didn’t have to donate anything other than my time, patience and a little blood. The studies were only for tobacco research and required that I be a smoker. This is a preface to the bigger story, the current one of my becoming a non-smoker.

One of the gigs required that I stay overnight, go without coffee two days prior and no cigarettes were allowed 12 hours prior to check-in at MCV hospital.

Once settled in, I was given a series of hourly tests that involved my cognitive reflexes and memory retention. I found it rather interesting that they wanted to know how my brain worked without tobacco.

I interrogated the doctors and researchers about tobacco and the brain to learn just why nicotine is so addictive. Here’s what I’ve learned and why it is so hard for many of us to just quit cold turkey.

Simple science behind addiction

There is a perception out there that tobacco is merely a physical addiction. See, the tricky thing is that your brain is a tangible, physical part of you, but there are also many complex, mysterious things happening inside it that we can’t see. Science has made huge leaps in explaining some of it. Point being, they’re connected—mind and body. Withdrawal isn’t simply about nicotine decreasing in the bloodstream (physical), it is also about the way your neurotransmitters are firing messages (mind).

A smoker is going through nicotine withdrawal the minute they put out a cigarette. Let’s be science-like and call it pain conditioning. Pain conditioning (and pleasure conditioning) involves neurotransmitters that reinforce the neural pathways which develop with newly learned behaviors.

Think of a neurotransmitter as “an automobile wearing ruts in a gravel road.”

This applies to all types of behavior and learning—from avoiding touching a hot iron to associating an “A” on a test with a reward. I could go on with the examples but, basically, that “deep neural rut” in your neural pathway is what makes a reaction become automatic.

For smokers, the reactions are provoked by times, meals, activities and emotions.

To learn more about the science of addiction and the success rate of Chantix, please jump over to Richmond.com to finish reading!

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