Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Nicotine's Effect on Behavior

For an “addictive” drug, nicotine sure has some strange properties. Most drugs that increase dopamine levels in the brain make it difficult for the user to function. The users become—well, dopey! They get so wrapped up in the pleasure experience that they are a danger behind the wheel of a car, cannot perform well on the job, and put themselves into vulnerable situations where they can be taken advantage of. I’m thinking now of drugs such as alcohol, ecstasy, and opiates.

But that is NOT the behavior we see on the part of smokers who are not concurrently taking these other types of drugs. Instead we see smokers becoming alert and attentive, better able to concentrate, and thus more productive.

For people suffering from stress, anxiety, panic, or depression, nicotine provides symptom relief. There is an interesting study done about 20 years ago with hospitalized patients being treated with anti-depressant medication. Some were only able to overcome their symptoms when allowed to smoke! One patient told her doctor, “If you let me smoke, I’ll stop trying to kill myself.”

“Uppers” such as cocaine and amphetamines often trigger anger and aggression. In contrast, many people become irritable and aggressive when they STOP using nicotine.

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