By Valley County Health Department
For the Courier 

What Happens In The Brain Of A Nicotine User?


April 20, 2022

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a four-part series regarding nicotine use and stress. The first part was printed in the April 13, 2022, edition of The Glasgow Courier.

When a smoker puffs on a cigarette, nicotine is carried into the lungs via smoke particles where it is absorbed into blood and makes its way quickly to the brain. Once [it hits] the brain, nicotine increases the release of dopamine, a chemical that signals pleasure, which keeps them addicted to nicotine.

Why Do So Many Tobacco Users Think That Nicotine Alleviates Stress?

Nicotine’s release of pleasure-inducing chemicals makes tobacco users feel good in the short-term and can appear to have a positive effect on stress. However, it’s important to note that nicotine use does not alleviate stress in the long-term and instead can trap users in a cycle of nicotine addiction. Smokers experience irritability, anxiety, and depression when they have not smoked for a while, feelings which are relieved by smoking. The cycle of symptoms followed by relief from smoking can create the perception that smoking has psychological benefits.

Selling The Myth of Stress Relief

The tobacco industry has promoted the illusion of nicotine as stress-relieving tool for decades. It has invested significant resources in marketing that connects tobacco use with mental well-being, stress relief, relaxation, and pleasure.

One prominent theme used in tobacco advertising is that “smoking can help solve some personal and emotional problems by relieving stress and promoting relaxation." Many e-cigarette brands are now tapping into themes of stress relief and mental wellbeing as well. For, example, the poplar disposable e-cigarette brand Puff Bar marketed its product during the pandemic as a way to “stay sane,” advertising it as “the perfect escape from back-back zoom calls, parental texts, and WFH stress.”

In addition to supporting research that marketing positions cigarettes as a way to self-medicate and as a stress relief, the tobacco industry has even gone so far as to give away cigarettes to psychiatric facilities. Roughly a third of all cigarettes consumed in the U.S. are smoked by adults with some form of mental illness compared to adults with no mental illness.

You can find references to this information in the March 2022 edition in Truth Initiative,, @truthinitiative.

Any questions or wanting information on Tobacco and Vaping regarding the youth, contact

Teri Long- Meche

Tobacco Prevention


Valley County

Health Department



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