Tobacco and the Brain Essay

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Tobacco and the Brain

Recent surveys show that 25 % of all American adults smoke despite the fact that tobacco is the No.1 cause of death (430,000 annual) and disease in this country (1). The life of a 30-year older that smokes 15 cigarettes a day is shortened by an average of more than five years (2). Why do people smoke despite the fact that it shortens their life? Why has this practice of smoking tobacco been around for 1000 years? There must be something that the human body or mind gains in spite of the threat of an early death. I realize this craving for nicotine on a personal level because I smoke. Smoker's self-reported motives for smoking include stress reduction and improved circulation (3). That sounds like my reasons. Plus
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Stimulating fibers originating in the nucleus accumbens is interpreted by the brain as the neurotransmitter equivalent of "Good--let's have it again" (2). High dopamine levels result in the desire for repeated increase of dopamine (4). Activation of this pleasure/ reward circuit also causes a cascade of biochemical changes in your brain cells, creating a memory of the event and the motivation to do it again, hence the setup for addiction (1). I guess it was a human misfortune that we discovered addictive drugs like nicotine that just fit into the dopamine receptor and are rewarded with pleasure (dopamine) even though they are not survival related, worse yet deadly.

Chronic exposure to nicotine results not only in physical addiction but also in mental addiction. Cigarette fixation is a combination of nicotine dependency due to the nucleus accumbens wanting more dopamine as it is stimulated, and deeply engrained behavior habits. For some people, the feel, smell, and sight of a cigarette and the usual rituals of obtaining, handling, lighting, and smoking the cigarette are all associated with the pleasurable effects of smoking (4). Also, places and times can have traditions of smoking built into them, like after sex, after meals, driving in a car or walking to class or work. These particular rituals, times, and places associated with the pleasurable effects of smoking can cause cravings and make
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