The Truth About Smoking Pleasure and Nicotine Addiction

Cropped Hand Of Woman Smoking Cigarette
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For those who smoke, smoking is associated with pleasure and comfort. Some might even say that they love smoking. Some think of cigarettes as close friends that have seen them through the ups and downs of their lives.

In reality, cigarettes are full of toxins. If you've been smoking for a while, however, you may have learned to use cigarettes as a coping mechanism for everything from excitement and happiness to boredom or even anger. How can you quit for good when you've become emotionally attached to cigarettes?

This article explains the reasons why smoking feels pleasurable and why people crave nicotine—even when their bodies are experiencing the negative health effects of cigarettes. By describing the nature of nicotine addiction, this article provides lasting ways you can start your journey to quit smoking for good.

How Smoking Is a Toxic Relationship

You can view your relationship with nicotine as a toxic relationship. While it might feel good to smoke in the moment, nicotine is not a true friend. Nicotine tricks the body and the mind into craving more and more nicotine.

Ultimately, the short- and long-term negative health consequences of smoking are not worth any fleeting pleasure smoking provides.

While some negative effects of smoking (such as respiratory problems and lung cancer) can take time to develop, smoking does immediate damage to your health, such as increasing your heart rate and your blood pressure.

The power that nicotine has over people who smoke is tremendous. You can start to see how any relationship with nicotine is a toxic one, not only because of the many health risks of smoking, but because of the tricks nicotine plays on those who use it.

Smoking Manipulates the Body

When you inhale the nicotine in cigarette smoke, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in your brain. Dopamine is often called the "feel-good" hormone, as it produces feelings of pleasure.

But the effects of nicotine wear off shortly after you smoke. This begins the cycle of cigarette smoking. You want to smoke to feel good, but you'll eventually need to smoke greater amounts of cigarettes over time to feel the same effects—also known as developing a tolerance.

Smoking Causes Constant Nicotine Withdrawal

People who smoke live in an almost constant state of nicotine withdrawal, from the first cigarette of the day until the last. As soon as you stub out a cigarette, the level of nicotine in your bloodstream begins to drop, signaling the start of nicotine withdrawal.

Thirty minutes after your last cigarette, you are thinking about the next cigarette. An hour after your last cigarette, most people who smoke feel edgy and uncomfortable.

You light another cigarette and within a few puffs, your discomfort lessens. Chemically, you once again experience the dopamine rush that comes when nicotine attaches to receptors in your brain. The fidgety tension is gone and you are back to feeling comfortable.

This comfort won't last long, though. In about 30 minutes to an hour, the process of withdrawal will repeat itself. It is this pattern of nicotine depletion and replenishment in the bloodstream that people who smoke have learned to think of as "smoking pleasure."

Smoking Conditions the Body and Mind

Over time, the physical need to smoke—which can result in a cycle of addiction—gets attached to every emotion and event in your life. The process essentially conditions your body to crave nicotine even if you're not going through withdrawal. During a challenging life event, difficult emotion, or specific social situation, the urge to smoke will appear suddenly and strongly.

Beyond the physical dependence on nicotine, for many, smoking becomes a source of comfort in times of stress. This emotional attachment can make quitting even more difficult.

There are a number of common triggers that compel people to light up. You might notice you really want to smoke:

  • After eating a meal
  • After having sex
  • Before you go to bed
  • During stressful situations
  • While driving
  • When you're feeling bored
  • When you're feeling tired
  • When you're having strong emotions (anger, happiness, or sadness)
  • With your morning cup of coffee

There are also social triggers to smoke that people commonly experience, such as being around friends who smoke, being at a bar, or drinking alcohol.

Even if you just had a cigarette, these types of triggers can encourage you to smoke more. The conditioning of your routine and your brain to associate a cigarette craving with emotional triggers creates a strong cycle of smoking.

Thinking of your relationship with smoking as a toxic relationship can help you see just how manipulative nicotine is—it plays tricks on the body and mind, convincing us that we need it to feel pleasure. It becomes so ingrained in the lives of those who smoke, that people come to believe they can't live without it.

But just like any toxic relationship, the one with nicotine can be overcome. You can live a healthy life without nicotine.

How to Quit Smoking for Good

Following a smoking cessation program, utilizing quit aids, and changing your relationship with smoking can help you give up the habit or break the cycle of addiction.

Make a Plan

Making a plan to quit smoking means doing research on everything from nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings to support groups that you can attend to help you on your journey.

Your plan to quit smoking may include:

  • Educating yourself on the methods to quit smoking
  • Understanding nicotine withdrawal and how to cope
  • Learning how to manage triggers to smoke
  • Exploring how you'll handle cravings
  • Knowing how you'll get back on track if you relapse
  • Choosing a quit date

Some people decide that a "cold turkey" method is right for them. Quitting cold turkey means that you completely quit smoking cigarettes on your quit date. Others decide that tapering off the number of cigarettes they smoke is more effective, until they are able to stop altogether.

Get Support

There are many resources to help you create a quit plan and support you while you stay smoke-free.

One study found that receiving support from family and friends played a significant role in helping people successfully get on track to quit smoking.

Let your loved ones know you are serious about your goal to quit smoking. If you have people in your life who still smoke, ask them if they can please avoid smoking near you.

Avoid hanging out with people who smoke and try engaging in activities in smoke-free places (like movie theaters or museums) so you can better manage the social triggers to smoke.

There are many online and over-the-phone resources for quitting, including The National Cancer Institute's free quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848). Or, you can live chat with one of their quit counselors on the LiveHelp website.

Consider a Quit Aid

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a popular over-the-counter treatment option that can help people quit smoking. NRT comes in patches, lozenges, gum, and more. NRT administers nicotine into the body, but it doesn't contain the other harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is an effective way for some people to gradually wean off of nicotine without intense withdrawal symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two prescription medications to help people quit smoking: bupropion and varenicline. Chantix is a popular brand name of the generic drug varenicline, and Wellbutrin and Zyban are brand names of bupropion.

Both bupropion and varenicline can help reduce cigarette cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Varenicline actually mimics the effects of nicotine on the brain and makes smoking cigarettes less pleasurable. Talk to your doctor about whether you're a candidate for quit smoking medications.

Don't Give Up

Quitting smoking might seem like an impossible feat, but remember, you can be successful. Research indicates that for many people who successfully quit smoking, it took a number of attempts before they gave up cigarettes for good.

A Word From Verywell

If you smoke, it probably feels like you're in a close relationship with cigarettes. You might turn to them when you are angry or stressed, or even at the same time every day as part of your routine. But remember, if you're in a relationship with cigarettes, it's a toxic one.

You're not alone if you're looking to quit smoking. You have resources available to you—whether it's an online chat service or support from a family member—that can help you be successful. Don't give up on your journey to be smoke-free.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Laura Harold
Laura Harold is an editor and contributing writer for Verywell Family, Fit, and Mind.

Originally written by
Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.
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