Thursday, May 26, 2011

the science behind addiction

Given I've tried to quit smoking - mostly halfheartedly - about 5 times, this time I thought I'd look into the science behind my addiction.

I rely on science for everything. Which is why I never paid attention to what time the rapture would occur this weekend, because in my mind, it's not something that can be backed up with science.

I used the Allen Carr method to stop smoking, which basically makes you realise you're a drug addict.

It's all about killing the nicotine monster within you as quickly as possible, so all nicotine replacement products like patches and gum don't help you. You have to go cold turkey.

And fuck me in a feret farm, was it hard.

So looking at the science of nicotine, and how it actually works, I found some pretty interesting shit about the stuff that made me a junkie for almost 14 years:

It's an alkaloid.
Found in the plant 'deadly nightshade' (no really, it's in the potato family), which will kill you if you ate them. Its properties are the same as heroin and cocaine.

On heroin and cocaine
Some studies have shown that nicotine is even more addictive. It's subtle nature, coupled with the fact that it retards the growth of your dopamine receptors, make quitting even harder than Class A drugs.

(This makes me a fucking rock star. Right here. Right now. On 9 days nicotine clean.)

Nicotine content in cigarettes has increased over the years
One study found that there's an average increase of 1.6% a year between 1998 and 2005 in all major cigarette brands.


How it works and why it fucks you up
Biology 101. Try to follow me. In plain speak, it increases activity on ganglion receptors in your brain. Within 7 seconds of taking a hit, it's entered your cranium.

By binding to these ganglions, it increases the dopamine transmitters. Dopamine is the 'reward' hormone.

So each time you smoke, dopamine is pumped into your brain, making a cigarette seem like a treat. When not smoking, your dopamine levels drop, and in order to regain normality, you smoke. Again. And again.

That's kind of what heroin and coke do too.

But then nicotine trumps those two by doing something else in addition to this.

Tobacco smoke contains a truckload of other bad things that decrease the ability to break down dopamine and serotonin (the 'feel good' hormone.) This has reinforcing effects on the nicotine, to drive the addition home.

This is similar to what amphetamines do.

It also helps to pump more adrenaline into your system. Which is why smokers smoke to feel calm and alert at the same time.


Nicotine has a higher toxology than cocaine
The lethal dose of nicotine on rats is 50 mg/kg. The lethal dose of cocaine is 95 mg/kg.
Nicotine is very permeable on the skin (hence the patches), however spilling a high dose on your skin can cause death.

Nicotine has an affinity for melanin
According to [All hail ye!] Wikipedia, nicotine likes to bind to melanin - the pigment in our skin.
This has been suggested to underlie the increased nicotine dependence and lower smoking cessation rates in darker pigmented individuals.

There's a correlation - 75% of schizophrenia patients in a global study, smoke. Higher than in any other group.

Women have a harder time quitting
Research shows nicotine addiction is more prevalent in women. Our dependence on the drug has something to do with our genetic make up. How's that for some awesome news.

In truth, I'm pretty happy to be freed from....desire.

PS: Not quite. Went out for a tower of dim sum (Jesus, I love little hot pockets of Chinesey goodness), with mates, over champagne. They were smoking; I was not. It was ok. But I still miss it.


Charmskool said...

Yup when Betenoir was at varsity they were taught in psych class that we smokers have a harder time giving up than heroin addicts. Made her a bit sympathetic to me for a while - a bit - for a while - not a lot and not for long. I've given up for the 3rd time. The first time I didn't smoke for 8 years, the next time for 5 years, wonder how long I'll last this time?

Peas on Toast said...

Charm - Eight and five years is amaaaazing going. God, that's a lifetime.
I think people who have never smoked, much like people who have never been on heroin, don't quite understand the feeling of a craving.

How could they possibly.

Here's to you quitting for good. I'm hoping to as well. Just can't touch another cigarette for as long as I live.

cassey said...

Wow, I had no idea it was that tough giving it up, but you can do it! Do distractions work for your cravings? Like have some gum or dim sum, now there's an addiction that can't be bad for you - yummy, yummy dim sum :)

Peas on Toast said...

cassey - it's pretty bad, can't lie. It's seriously quite excruciating at its worst - the cravings come and go, but are less frequent as they were in the beginning.

Sigh. Hopefully I won't balloon now that I've stopped either!

cassey said...

I'm sure you'll be fine, and not balloon. You can do it!


Flarkit said...

Let exercise replace the feel-good stuff with endorphins. Hop on that bike and cycle like there's no tomorrow (perhaps you'll bump into more celebs ogling your red rocket). Or dance in the lounge like an utter nutter.

Smoking's a stupid way to pay someone else to damage your health IMO. You go girl!

Maryanne Papanicolaou nee Beverley said...

I gave up smoking 18 years ago - cold turkey. It was so very, very hard. But, definitely, without any doubt, the best thing I ever did for myself. Now that I am in my 50's I am so glad I gave up all those years ago. My lungs are clear, no niggly cough, my voice is sound. My heart aches when I see healthy young people smoking. God,they don't know what they are doing to themselves. Smoking is really not cool or an anti-social statement.