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Tobacco/Nicotine

Are There Other Chemicals That May Contribute to Tobacco Addiction?

Nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, patches, and inhalers may help alleviate the pharmacological aspects of withdrawal.

Yes, research is showing that nicotine may not be the only ingredient in tobacco that affects its addictive potential. Using advanced neuroimaging technology, scientists can see the dramatic effect of cigarette smoking on the brain and are finding a marked decrease in the levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an important enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of dopamine. This change is likely caused by some ingredient in tobacco smoke other than nicotine, because we know that nicotine itself does not dramatically alter MAO levels. The decrease in two forms of MAO (A and B) results in higher dopamine levels and may be another reason that smokers continue to smoke—to sustain the high dopamine levels that lead to the desire for repeated drug use.

Animal studies by NIDA-funded researchers have shown that acetaldehyde, another chemical found in tobacco smoke, dramatically increases the reinforcing properties of nicotine and may also contribute to tobacco addiction. The investigators further report that this effect is age-related: adolescent animals display far more sensitivity to this reinforcing effect, which suggests that the brains of adolescents may be more vulnerable to tobacco addiction.

This page was last updated July 2012

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