What happens in the brain when you use tobacco and nicotine?

Like many other drugs, nicotine increases levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is released naturally when you experience something pleasurable like good food, your favorite activity, or spending time with people you care about. When a person uses tobacco products, the release of dopamine causes similar “feel-good” effects. This effect wears off quickly, causing people who smoke to get the urge to light up again for more of that good feeling, which can lead to addiction.

A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over the period of about 5 minutes that the cigarette is lit. So, a person who smokes about a pack of 25 cigarettes a day gets 250 “hits” of nicotine.  

Studies suggest that other chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as acetaldehyde, may increase the effects of nicotine on the brain.

When smokeless tobacco is used, nicotine is absorbed through the mouth tissues directly into the blood, where it goes to the brain. Even after the tobacco is removed from the mouth, nicotine continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Also, the nicotine stays in the blood longer for users of smokeless tobacco than for smokers.