New Year is the time when many smokers and heavy drinkers will resolve to give up cigarettes or alcohol. Studying addictive behaviours is part of the Health Psychology option, and is a topic of great interest to students, many of whom themselves will already be addicted to nicotine. Attitudes to smoking and to excessive drinking have changed greatly over the years, as the dangers of addiction became apparent. See here for an insight to exactly how much advertising has altered since the 1940s.
However, by 1963 the message about the dangers was getting out.
Both biological and social explanations can contribute to an understanding of how addiction works, and why it can be so difficult to give up our attachment to harmful substances.
Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. It also stimulates the release of dopamine, producing feelings of pleasure which contribute to psychological addiction. It acts like the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, stimulating the growth of new acetylcholine receptors, which produces a physical addiction, as they require “activating” by the production of acetylcholine, or by more nicotine.
Alcohol acts on the pineal, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, resulting in the underproduction of hormones. It suppresses the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and increases the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, slowing down thoughts, speech and action. Just like nicotine, it stimulates dopamine release and produces feelings of pleasure.
Nicotine – According to social learning theory, smoking is learned. One of the most important factors predicting smoking behaviour is parental smoking. Another is peer group pressure. Although many Western countries now ban cigarette advertising and have severely curtailed smoking in public places, smoking continues unabated in Asia.
Alcohol – In the UK, the concept of the ‘pub’ is central to many peoples’ lives and is the focal point of many communities. In other countries, going out for a meal naturally involves drinking alcohol with the food. However, unlike nicotine, alcohol advertising is subject to fewer regulations, and a recent newspaper article points out that alcohol sponsorship of sports does untold harm.
Finally, a Thai Health promotion video that uses children to bring home the anti-smoking message. What a great idea!