With each puff on a cigarette comes a rush of pleasure, but this euphoria is short-lived. Once that nicotine runs its course, your body craves its quick return. Your instant of joy turns to long-range irritability, anxiety and addiction. Scientific evidence suggests that a few minutes of nicotine pleasure, when indulged in consistently, may eventually lead to stress and feelings of isolation due to your body's dependence on the drug.
When you inhale, you deliver a concentrated dose of nicotine into your bloodstream, which quickly enters your brain, according to a 2012 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Your brain responds by sending a signal to your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, raising your blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. Nicotine also activates pathways in your brain that control feelings of pleasure. It increases the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward circuits of your brain to produce a sense of euphoria. This is achieved immediately and reinforced with each puff.
When your body expels nicotine, you lose this euphoric feeling. The result is a biochemical and emotional dependence on the drug, according to a 2012 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As euphoric as your emotions were when you took a puff, your emotions swing the other way when the drug is removed. Smokers under nicotine withdrawal become irritable, depressed and anxious. They have trouble sleeping, are likely to want to eat to compensate for the loss of pleasure and start to crave their next cigarette. These emotions peak for the first few days a chronic smoker quits but can last for months.
Smokers are more sensitive to emotional stress than nonsmokers, according to a 2013 Gallup survey of 83,000 adults. The survey’s emotional health index asked participants about their emotions the previous day, whether they spent most of the day happy, upset or angry. The study found that smokers had an average emotional health index of 72, while nonsmokers’ average index was 81. The survey showed that 50 percent of smokers experienced significant stress the previous day compared to 37 percent of nonsmokers. Forty percent of smokers were worried the previous day compared to 28 percent of nonsmokers.
According to the 2013 Gallup survey, only 87 percent of smokers felt they were treated with respect the previous day compared to 93 percent of nonsmokers. Smokers feel isolated, cut off from others and less able to enjoy themselves, according to the poll. Seventy-eight percent of smokers experienced enjoyment the previous day, and 77 percent smiled or laughed compared to 86 and 83 percent of nonsmokers, the poll found. Half of all bipolar patients and two-thirds of schizophrenics smoke, according to a 2014 report in the "Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine," which suggests that smoking is a habit common among those who are emotionally isolated due to mental illness.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Tobacco/Nicotine, Revised 2012
- Gallup Poll: Americans Who Smoke Suffer Emotionally, 2013
- Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: Tobacco Use Treatment in Primary Care Patients With Psychiatric Illness
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, 2008 Update