What is nicotine addiction?
Nicotine is the tobacco plant's natural protection from being eaten by insects. Drop for drop it's more lethal than strychnine and three times deadlier than arsenic. Yet, amazingly, by chance, this natural insecticide's chemical structure is so similar to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that once inside the brain it fits a host of chemical locks permitting it direct and indirect control over the flow of more than 200 neurochemicals.
Within eight seconds of that first-ever inhaled puff, through dizzy, coughing and six shades of green, nicotine arrived at the brain's reward pathways where it generated an unearned flood of dopamine resulting in an immediate yet possibly unrecognized "aaahhh" reward sensation. Sensing it would cause most first-time inhalers to soon return to steal more. Nicotine also fit the adrenaline locks releasing a host of fight or flight neurochemicals and select serotonin locks impacting mood.
Brain Defenses Create Dependency
A toxic poison, the brain's defenses fought back but in doing so they had no choice but to also turn down the mind’s sensitivity to acetylcholine, the body's conductor of an entire orchestra of neurochemicals.
In some neuro-circuits the brain diminished the number of receptors available to receive nicotine, in others it diminished the number of available transporters and in still other regions it grew millions and millions of extra acetylcholine receptors (up-regulation), almost as if trying to protect itself by more widely disbursing the arriving pesticide.
There was only one problem. All the physical changes engineered a new tailored neurochemical sense of normal built entirely upon the presence of nicotine. Now, any attempt to stop using it would come with a risk of intermittent temporary hurtful anxieties and powerful mood shifts. A true chemical addiction was born. Returning home to the “real you” now had a price. Gradually the calmness and comfort associated with being the “real you” faded into distant or even forgotten memory.
The brain's protective adjustments insured that any attempt to stop would leave you temporarily desensitized. Your dopamine reward system would briefly offer-up few rewards, your nervous system would see altering the status quo as danger and sound an emotional anxiety alarm throughout your body, and mood circuitry might briefly find it difficult to climb beyond depression.
The Recovery Process
Successful nicotine dependency recovery is in maintaining the motivations, dreams and patience needed to allow: (1) the physical mind time to re-sensitize itself and re-adjust to functioning normally again; (2) the subconscious mind time to encounter and re-condition the bulk of its nicotine feeding cues that triggered brief anxiety episodes in an attempt to gain compliance; and (3) the conscious mind time to either allow years of defensive dependency rationalizations to fade into distant memory, or the intelligent quitter time to more rapidly destroy their impact through honest reflection.
The ex-smoker will find themselves enjoying a deep and rich sense of inner quiet, calmness, and tranquility once their temporary journey of re-adjustment is substantially complete.
The body's nicotine reserves decline by about half every two hours. It's not only the basic chemical half-life clock which determines mandatory nicotine feeding times, when quitting it's also the clock that determines how long it takes before the brain begins bathing in nicotine free blood-serum, the moment that real healing begins.
It can take up to 72 hours for the blood-serum to become nicotine-free and 90% of nicotine's metabolites to exit the body via your urine. It's then that the anxieties associated with readjustment normally peak in intensity and begin to gradually decline.
But just one powerful "hit" of nicotine and you’ll again face another 72 hours of detox anxieties. It's why the one puff survival rate is almost zero. None of us are stronger than nicotine but then we don’t need to be as it is simply a chemical with an I.Q. of zero. It does not plot, plan or conspire and is not some demon within us. Our most effective weapon against it is, and always has been, our vastly superior intelligence but only if put to work.