The Seductive Power of Nicotine
Health Guide March 20, 2008
When we tried our first cigarette, chances were that we were emulating someone (perhaps a celebrity or an older sibling, parent, or friend). We didn’t really want to become “smokers”, we just wanted to look cool or see what all the fuss was about.
And that first cigarette probably tasted awful (I know mine did). I coughed and wondered how anyone could regularly and deliberately inhale that nasty smoke into her body. Then the rush of nicotine made its way into my bloodstream and that felt nice.
In fact, it felt so nice I wanted to try it again. Soon I got past the burn in my throat – perhaps my throat got a little numb to it or perhaps some of the pain receptors were actually killed off. Either way, the rush of nicotine was a good feeling and I wanted to repeat it.
Pretty soon that feeling wasn’t just something I desired, but something I had to have. The addiction had taken hold. The tobacco industry likes to say it’s a choice we have – to smoke or not to smoke. There were many times in my smoking history where I can tell you it was no choice. It was an absolute necessity and a compulsion.
I heard recently about a drug that Parkinson’s patients take to settle their tremors and in rare cases it can induce compulsive behaviors in people who never had a compulsive behavior before. It made these people either gamble their savings away, eat to obesity, shop until they were deeply in debt, or become alcoholics or sex addicts. The drug affects dopamine receptors in areas of the brain associated with emotion, behavior, reward, and pleasure.
I will not be surprised if researchers learn that all addictions are linked and that what triggers these behaviors regarding gambling and drinking are the same triggers that cause almost all smokers to become addicted.
When I was younger I had a serious problem with alcohol that was only “cured” by complete abstinence. I was also not a smoker who could smoke a cigarette once in a while. To cure myself of my smoking addiction I had to complete remove cigarettes from my life and cold turkey is what finally worked for me.
Smoking is seductive because we all start by thinking we can smoke just a little. But unlike alcohol where only a few people become problem drinkers, almost all smokers become addicted. And the younger we start, the more likely we are to become addicted and the more difficult it will be to quit.
This is why smoking should not be considered a lifestyle choice. I am not in favor of outlawing it, but I do not want our movies depicting it as glamorous and our magazines flaunting smoking celebrities. Young people are impressionable and youngsters who start smoking are very likely to become adults who smoke. And many of those adults end up dying because of that “choice”.