The psychobiology of nicotine dependence

D. J. K. Balfour

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    There is abundant evidence to show that nicotine is the principal addictive component of tobacco smoke. The results of laboratory studies have shown that nicotine has many of the behavioural and neurobiological properties of a drug of dependence. This article focuses on the evidence that nicotine has the rewarding and reinforcing properties typical of an addictive drug and that these properties are mediated, in part, by its effects on mesolimbic dopamine neurones. However, in many experimental models of dependence, nicotine has relatively weak reinforcing properties that do not appear to explain adequately the powerful addiction to tobacco smoke experienced by many habitual smokers. Some of the reasons for this conundrum will be covered herein. This article focuses on the hypothesis that sensory stimuli and other pharmacologically active components in tobacco smoke play a pivotal role in the addiction to nicotine when it is inhaled in tobacco smoke. The article will discuss the evidence that dependence upon tobacco smoke reflects a complex interaction between nicotine and the components of the smoke, which are mediated by complementary effects of nicotine on the dopamine projections to the shell and core subdivisions of the accumbens. It will also discuss the extent to which the complexity of the dependence explains why nicotine replacement therapy does not provide a completely satisfying aid to smoking cessation and speculate on the properties treatments should exhibit if they are to provide a better treatment for tobacco dependence than those currently available.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)172-181
    Number of pages10
    JournalEuropean Respiratory Review
    Issue number110
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2008


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