The Psychobiology of Nicotine
Neil E. Grunberg
Martha M. Faraday
Matthew A. Rahman
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Knowledge and perceptions of cigarette smoking and tobacco use have changed dramatically since health psychology began (i.e., over the past 25 to 50 years). A short half century ago, tobacco use was considered to be a behavior of choice and was commonplace in society. Most men smoked in public, some women smoked in public, and more women smoked in private. In the middle of this century, smoking was not considered by the general public to be a health hazard and was touted by tobacco companies and celebrities as an enhancer of good health. By the mid 197Os, the health care community's attitudes toward tobacco use had turned negative, but tobacco use still was common among men, was increasing among women, and was erroneously viewed by the public and by many health care professionals as a matter of free choice. During the last quarter of this century, the story of tobacco use has undergone a Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transformation. It has gone from the standard behavior of gentlemen and some ladies to the monstrosity of a shunned suicidal behavior that pollutes the environment and everyone near the smoker. Since the 197Os, it has become unquestionably clear that the behavior of tobacco use is the single greatest cause of death and illness in the world. Tobacco use results in cardiovascular diseases, many cancers, chronic obstructive lung diseases, increased morbidity, and immunosuppression. Since the 198Os, it has become well-known that tobacco use involves addiction to nicotine, that the use and abuse of tobacco also is a result of behavioral and biological actions of nicotine in addition to nicotine dependence per se, and that psychological and situational variables become associated with tobacco use and thereby contribute to the use and abuse of deadly tobacco products.
This chapter discusses those psychobiologic phenomena that are central to why people smoke and why it is so difficult to quit. The psychobiology of nicotine self-administration includes behaviors (e.g., self-administering nicotine) that are directly relevant to tobacco use; psychological and behavioral effects of nicotine that contribute to tobacco use (e.g., euphoria, mood regulation, attentional effects; changes in eating behavior and appetite); psychological phenomena that come to elicit nicotinelike effects (e.g., classical conditioning, operant conditioning, paired associations); and psychological consequences of nicotine abstinence (craving, increased appetite and feeding, irritability, sleep disturbances). As such, this chapter in the tobacco story is the domain of psychologists who are interested in behaviors that affect health and psychologists who study interactions of psychology and biology as they relate to health.
The first section presents evidence that humans and animals self-administer nicotine. The second section explains that nicotine self-administration is established by principles of reinforcement. The third section reviews effects of nicotine on the body that are believed to underlie the euphoric