Nicotine Vs. Dopamine – The Chemical Messenger War And Why People Who Try To Quit Nicotine Keep Failing

Over 95% of people who quit nicotine (smoking, vaping or chewing) without help return to the same habit within approximately 6 months or less.


Firstly, What Is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. Your body makes it, and your nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as a chemical messenger.

Dopamine plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. 

Your body spreads it along four major pathways in the brain. Like most other systems in the body, you don’t notice it (or maybe even know about it) until there’s a problem.


How Could That Be, When The Physical Addiction To Nicotine Wears Off After Just 3 To 4 Days?

It boils down to the fact that nicotine is a short-term stimulant, but a long-term depressant. Not only that but much of the addiction is based upon psychological stimulation that stems from physical habits and rituals (behaviours).

You see, dopamine is created in the brain, even when you just think about a cigarette, vaping or chewing, sex, or even your favorite food. So when smokers are trying to quit, there’s a chemical messenger war that’s going on in their brain that’s both physical and mental (just like with other addictions to substances such as drugs and alcohol), and the triggers can become unforgiving, if not followed by the drug. Let’s elaborate a little more here.

Behaviour or rituals keep smokers addicted beyond the 4th day once you’ve stopped smoking or ingesting nicotine. Most smokers love tapping the cigarette on its end or dangling it from their lips or getting all the bits needed to roll a cigarette. The dopamine and psychological addiction is already kicking in full throttle, knowing the drug (nicotine) will follow soon. Little chemical messengers are doing their job because they’re expecting the reward of actually receiving the nicotine from smoking or chewing.

Most smokers also change their environment when they puff, heading outside or away from family members for example, away from stress. This too provides a dopamine boost, but not enough as the actual act of smoking does. Cigarettes are treated with ammonia (freebased) to turn the nicotine into a vapor, so it reaches the heart and brain within just seconds, even as quickly as 3 seconds in some cases. How do you quit that!?

Then there’s also the “hand-to-mouth” habit, and that’s boosting dopamine production as well. Yes, the rituals have all but taken over your life. What to do? Try substituting with healthy snacks, like fruit and nut mix, berries or dark chocolate. Also keep going outside for breaks to just breathe deeply without the nicotine device and choose superfoods and supplements instead. Acts like mindfulness and meditation are also good ways of still getting the relaxation that smoking used to provide.

Do You Want To Find Out How Many Years Your Smoking Has Cost You In Longevity? Click Here To Find Out!


The Perils & Pitfalls Of Addiction

Over time – months, years or decades of feeding the nicotine fix and providing your body with a dopamine-creating crutch, the body creates less and less dopamine naturally on its own, so you need a stronger and more frequent fix. Oh, the perils of addiction!

When those dopamine production levels drop, form and function go with it. Symptoms include sadness, cognitive changes, agitation, restlessness and sleep problems to list just a few. Many smokers suffer from dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome, and they have no clue that there is any natural substitute for their drug addiction, and we’ll cover that later.

But first, it’s important to understand how to win the chemical messenger war, the one that defeats the mood swings, the indecision and the dark times. You’ve been over-stimulated by an on call, jacked-up nicotine delivery device for years, and it’s making you lose interest in almost everything, besides the cancer producing sticks themselves. Your actions have become compulsive, and resistance is futile.


Or Is It?

Did you know there are superfoods and supplements that can naturally boost the “feel good” neurotransmitter that’s associated with reward and pleasure? So what if your “go-to” comfort food was a superfood-supplement combination that boosted your dopamine production, where you didn’t even crave smoking cigarettes or vaping like you did before when you tried to stop smoking?


Our 10 Top Tips To Help You Quit Nicotine For Good

The best way to fix your “problem” is to boost your dopamine production and your general overall mental health naturally, instead of with a drug out of a packet or pouch. Set down the cheeseburger and the fizzy drinks for a minute and learn the path out of the maze of addiction to nicotine.

There’s a saying that goes like this, “Just put one hand against the wall and you can lead yourself right out of the labyrinth.” That’s the power of supplements and superfoods.

There is a natural, innovative alternative to nicotine, and the testimonials are pouring in. Smokers and vape enthusiasts are discovering the next step, a clean step, in the evolution of nicotine alternatives. You can still use more traditional recovery options like using nicotine patches, gum/lozenges, fake cigarettes or swapping to using vaping liquids that begin with an ever decreasing amount of nicotine until you vape with none at all and can stop the physical dependence to nicotine, in the meantime using other alternatives to overcome the psychologically addictive behaviours that’s associated with smoking.


Top 10 ways people quit smoking or vaping in 2020

Here’s our top tips to boost the chemicals in your brain that can make stopping smoking a lot easier and more manageable.

1) Exercise

Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day improves overall mood. Research has revealed that long-term cardiovascular exercise boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin can lower hostility and symptoms of depression. It also encourages agreeableness.

2) Spend Time In The Outdoors

In previous generations, humans spent most of their time outdoors. These days, many people work indoors, sitting at a desk under artificial lighting or on the sofa in front of the TV. Researchers have found as little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting can improve mood, increase motivation and boost self-esteem.

The amount of time spent in sunlight correlates with serotonin and dopamine production. Even a brief walk in the park can improve your overall well-being. Also as we mentioned earlier, most smokers also change their environment when they smoke, for example heading outside or away from family members or away from the office or workplace, ultimately being away from stressful situations.

This can be replicated by going outdoors, away from stressful situations which may provide relief from the cravings and temptations to smoke.

3) Nutrition

Diet can also influence one’s mental health by getting various nutrients, vitamins and minerals from the foods and drinks you eat. Coffee increases your serotonin and dopamine levels … for as long as you take it anyway. However the caffeine in tea, coffee and certain fizzy drinks can also be addictive, cause a tolerance to build and cause mild withdrawal symptoms once you stop drinking.

Your brain, used to the high levels of neurotransmitters, will act as if there is a deficiency. It can take up to 12 days of a caffeine-free diet for the brain to return to its normal state.

Omega-3 fatty acids can boost serotonin and dopamine levels without the withdrawal. They help serotonin trigger nerve cell receptors, making transport easier. Many studies have shown that omega-3s help reduce depressive symptoms. You can find omega-3s in cold-water fish like salmon and certain other products labelled with added omega-3 like certain butters.

Contrary to internet rumors, eating turkey does not raise your brain’s serotonin levels. Many people think foods rich in tryptophan can boost mood, since the brain uses tryptophan to produce serotonin. However, tryptophan competes with several other amino acids for transportation to the brain. Since it is low on the body’s priority list, it usually loses.

That said, having some tryptophan in your diet is important. If you don’t have enough, your serotonin levels will drop. If you need more tryptophan, you can get it by eating starchy foods like whole wheat bread, potatoes and corn.

You can also check out our article on Nutrition for the recovering addict, including those who smoke by clicking here.

4) Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation is the practice of relaxed and focused contemplation, and mindfulness is the state of being present in the moment, accepting what’s happening around you without reacting to it. It is often accompanied by breathing exercises and simple exercises like performing a “body scan”. You can learn more about mindfulness and how to conduct a body scan easily in our article on the topic here.

Evidence has shown that meditation and mindfulness increases the production and release of dopamine. It can relieve stress and create feelings of inner peace and contentment. Using these methods can also help you to overcome temptations and cravings. You can find out more here.

5) Gratitude & Being Thankful

Scientific research has shown that being grateful and using/creating a gratitude list or journal affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness, an overall improvement of mental health. It also has other neuroscientific benefits.

There have been many studies on a practice called the “three blessings exercise.” Every night for a week, you write down three things you are thankful for. People who complete this exercise tend to report more happiness and less depressive symptoms. Their improved mood can last up to six months.

Also showing your appreciation towards others who have helped you or who are your close friends or family can improve your relationships with them. This will help to reduce the chances of having arguments with them, causing less stress for you and them in the process. It not only makes them feel good which will will make them more likely to offer help to you in the future, but it also makes you feel good too!

6. Essential Oils & Alternative/Complimentary Therapies

All essential oils come from plants or other natural products. These oils often have medicinal properties that’s been exploited for thousands of years across Asia.

For example, one study found that bergamot, lavender and lemon essential oils are particularly therapeutic.

Using your sense of smell, they prompt your brain to release serotonin and dopamine. You can help improve your health in a wide range of ailments and conditions including pain, fevers, breathing problems, skin conditions, mental health issues, sleep and many, many more besides.

Note: Always follow the instructions on the bottle’s label. Although essential oils are “natural,” some can be dangerous when misused or improperly used. Do not let young children play with essential oils or other vulnerable individuals as certain oils can be poisonous when drunk of inappropriately applied/used.

Likewise, there are other alternative or complimentary therapies that can be used in conjunction with the other ideas mentioned here. Certain therapies such as acupuncture and massage for example are great adjuncts to use when you try to stop smoking.

7) Goal Achievement & Affirmations

When we achieve one of our planned goals, our brain releases dopamine by giving us a great sense of achievement, motivation and happiness. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working towards goals in order to get the same feelings again. This not only benefits your mental health, but also helps you to progress and achieve things that are productive and useful.

Larger goals typically come with a larger increase in dopamine production. However, it’s best to start with small, manageable and achievable goals to improve your chances of success and to get a hang of the process. Short-term goals can add up to achieve a amount of progression and development long-term (and a bigger reward).

This pattern keeps a steady release of dopamine in your brain. We highly recommend that you check out our article about making “smart goals” if you want to improve your chances of succeeding and gaining the greatest amount of benefit from setting goals. You can read the full article here.

Also using positive talk, affirmations and motivational photos or videos can help you to achieve your goals with a greater positive mindset.

8) Happy Memories

Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin and dopamine in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more.

The Anterior Cingulate Cortex Is Highlighted Here In Purple

9) Novelty

The brain reacts to new, novel experiences by releasing dopamine. You can naturally increase your dopamine by seeking out new experiences. Any kind of experience can work.

You can do something simple like a new hobby, a recipe, doing some volunteering or charitable work or trying new experiences like skydiving, glass blowing or art for example, but anything you can think of that you’d enjoy or want to try will work. This is similar to acting out your own bucket list. You can learn more about bucket lists and creating your own here. The less familiar you are with the activity, the more likely your brain will reward you with dopamine.

10) Therapy

Research indicates if you change your mood, you can affect serotonin and dopamine synthesis in your brain. This implies mood and neurochemical synthesis have a mutual influence on each other.

Psychotherapy, counselling and hypnotherapy help people improve their mood, their overall mental health and to help individuals overcome issues such as addiction, smoking, weight loss, mental health conditions, chronic pain, jealousy or relationship problems plus much, much more.

It is possible therapy can help raise one’s serotonin and dopamine levels by reducing stress and begin to replace negative habits and behaviours into more positive ones.

If you can’t get out to see a therapist, you may also want to consider online therapy (telemedicine) and all of the benefits that it can provide. You can find out more about this and whether you’d be a good candidate for this in our article here.

Drink ‘n’ Drugs also provide counselling, psychotherapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and mindfulness sessions by our trained and experienced therapists. You can view our range of services and find out how to get in touch with a professional now by clicking here.

Whilst our top 10 methods can boost your neurotransmitters, they are not a substitute for professional medical care. If you have mental health concerns, you should always seek a doctor’s or therapist’s advice. A mental health professional can tell you which approaches are best for your unique situation. There is no shame in taking medication or attending counselling or any other types of therapy. They are common treatment options among many and as the stigma surrounding mental health and addictions subsides with better knowledge, treatments and therapies, it should be seen no different to visiting a hairdresser or servicing your car.


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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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