What About The Dopamine Dummy?

Neuroscience continues to confirm the efficacy of Allen Carr’s brilliant method — even when it comes to the issue that most detractors threw in his face: dopamine

Smokers use all kinds of excuses and reasoning to justify their continued smoking or vaping or JUULing. In a desperate attempt to explain their continued addiction (and failure to quit) they seek solace in scientific explanations of what it is that they might enjoy about nicotine.

Some felt that the involvement of dopamine in the addictive process disproved Carr’s assertion that there was no pleasure in smoking. Little did they know — years later he’d be proved right!

These often involve talk of nicotine raising dopamine levels — I’ll come on to that in a moment.

Some smokers claim that the feeling of dizziness or light-headedness after they haven’t smoked for a while is like a “high” — but when you think about it — it isn’t is it? It’s just dizzy and you can get exactly the same feeling by spinning around on the spot for ten seconds. Even as a chain-smoker I used to get that feeling when I lit my first one of the day, in most cases it made me feel instantly lousy.

Please don’t be deterred by some of the complex wording that follows — to quit smoking easily you don’t need to understand the workings of brain function with regard to nicotine addiction, any more than you need to understand the complex workings of the internal combustion engine to learn to drive a car. Look at the road — not under the hood, let the method work for you and you’ll be a happy non-smoker and non-nicotine addict in no time at all.

Some people claim that smoking helps with stress, depression, and anxiety but if this were true then surely smokers would be less anxious and less depressed than non-smokers? Yet research shows the exact opposite — that they are much more anxious and more depressed than non-smokers. Tragically there’s no doubt that a good portion of people who live with stress, depression, and anxiety are drawn into smoking by the flawed belief that nicotine might help them handle their condition — that’s all part of the brainwashing.

New evidence published in March 2021 in the Cochrane Library throws light on the issue. The research, led by Dr Gemma Taylor from the University of Bath’s Addiction & Mental Health Group finds that reductions in anxiety and depression among those who quit is at least as great as for those taking anti-depressants.

There’s a little-known tribe who believe that if you draw a chalk circle around them, they are unable to move outside of it. There’s no physical barrier — but their belief is enough to have them remain captive. The same can be said of the nicotine addict’s beliefs in support of their continued addiction. Correcting those beliefs is key to getting free, and staying free, and more importantly, doing so whilst feeling fabulous.

The way some people talk about dopamine you’d think it was akin to the quest for the Holy Grail, but if someone felt they were deficient in dopamine why not just listen to some great music, hug your kids or partner or a friend, or watch a funny movie, make love, or do some exercise? These activities are not only great fun, but beneficial for dopamine production.

I’m not suggesting that smokers who quit should increase these kinds of activities to make up for some perceived dopamine loss — the fact is all they have to do is avoid moping after the illusion that cigarettes or nicotine somehow enhanced their mood and and understand that they simply don’t need to suffer a period of gloom, doom, or loss when they quit.

Back when smoking was at its peak, we didn’t know how nicotine and other drugs affected the brain. Since then we have learned a great deal about a function of the brain known colloquially as reward pathways.

[Dopamine; in the brain dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter — a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The reward pathways play a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated, or re-enforced behaviour. Can you imagine the disruption that can be caused to this natural, instinctive process by the introduction of a highly addictive drug which appears to relieve the discomfort created by the first dose, and of every subsequent dose?]

It’s of tremendous comfort to everyone within Allen Carr’s Easyway organisation, who for decades have been working tirelessly to cure addiction all over the world, that as more and more becomes known about the way nicotine influences dopamine, science confirms what Allen Carr’s Easyway has been asserting for more than 35 years.

In 2019 one of the world’s leading academics in the field of nicotine addiction, Professor Robert West stated publicly, “Nicotine causes dopamine release by nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens — a part of the brain involved in learning to do things. The dopamine release tells the brain to pay attention to the situation and what the smoker was just doing — and do the same thing next time they’re in that same situation. So, a link is forged between the impulse to smoke and situations in which smoking normally happens”. Importantly, Professor West went on to add, “Crucially, the smoker doesn’t have to feel any pleasure or enjoyment for this to work.”

A smoker’s first experience of nicotine is normally at worst extremely unpleasant, and at best, a little unpleasant. For the sake of understanding this, smokers have to ignore the feelings aroused by the circumstances surrounding their first cigarette; the peer pressure & praise, the feeling of rebelliousness, the feeling of fitting in, the sense of appearing stylish, sophisticated, or macho, None of those are caused by the introduction of nicotine to the body, they’re all to do with the environment.

So, most smokers remember the physical effect of their first cigarettes as being unpleasant and this alone disproves any notion that nicotine’s initial introduction to the body and brain caused “pleasure”. Whatever impact nicotine has on dopamine levels when first introduced to the body — it’s certainly not pleasurable. In fact, most peoples’ first cigarette is so unpleasant and unrewarding it convinces them that they could never become addicted. The reason smokers develop a deep-seated belief that smoking IS pleasurable is explained by Professor West perfectly.

Point A: Nicotine withdrawal is the result of the first ever cigarette a nicotine addict smoked. It is momentarily “relieved” by the next cigarette. The brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time you feel nicotine withdrawal — do that again!”. In other words, the behaviour of lighting a cigarette in response to experiencing nicotine withdrawal is reinforced every time a smoker lights a cigarette regardless of the fact that the next cigarette will also cause nicotine withdrawal.

Whether a smoker is in a happy situation, a concentration situation, a sad situation, a stress situation, a relaxing situation, a boring situation, or a lonely situation they simultaneously experience nicotine withdrawal, and respond by lighting a cigarette, thereby immediately feeling better than a moment before and oblivious to the fact that that cigarette will perpetuate nicotine withdrawal once it is smoked .

It’s no wonder they think cigarettes help them to be happy or to concentrate, or to cope with sadness and stress, and to help them relax or cope with boredom or loneliness! It’s got nothing to do with genuine pleasure or genuine improvement of mood. And every single time they light a cigarette in one of those situations — the brain concludes, non-consciously, “next time that happens — do that again!”.

Non-smokers don’t have to deal with any of the mental and physical aggravation of being addicted to nicotine. They don’t suffer nicotine poisoning, nicotine withdrawal or the aberrational/unnatural impact nicotine has on dopamine and their behaviour.

Point B: All a smoker is trying to achieve when they light a cigarette is to recapture the feeling of peace, calm, and tranquillity they enjoyed their entire lives before they lit their first experimental cigarette. In other words — a smoker smokes in order to feel like a non-smoker.

Once a nicotine addict understands Point A & Point B we explain how nicotine addiction, irrespective of nicotine’s influence on dopamine levels, is actually extremely mild, and that the really unpleasant symptoms a smoker suffers when they try to quit without Easyway’s help, are the result of a mental struggle. That struggle is caused by the smoker feeling deprived of what they think is a genuine pleasure or crutch.

Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking goes on to reveal how the smoker’s belief system surrounding smoking, that it helps them to relax, socialize, handle stress, concentrate, enjoy alcohol, take a break from work, and so on, is based on misinformation, misinterpretation of personal experiences, and their addiction to nicotine.

[This issue, and many more, is included in the latest upgrade of Allen Carr’s Easyway method called ‘Allen Carr’s Easyway to QUIT Smoking’. Available in the USA & Canada, UK, and worldwide].

The smoker then concludes that there aren’t any advantages to smoking and therefore there is no point in doing it. This leaves the smoker to handle the extremely mild symptoms of nicotine withdrawal without having to experience the discomfort of feeling that they are missing out on something they used to enjoy or receive benefit from.

This is hugely important as the former smoker develops new responses to any habitual triggers to smoke over the first few weeks of being a happy non-smoker. For example, if they used to light a cigarette as they left work in the afternoon, that might be a moment when the thought of smoking crosses their mind, but once they quit with Easyway, instead of consciously processing thoughts and feelings of loss, they can assert, and process, thoughts and feelings of release and freedom.

This piece is dedicated to Janelle C, in Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking Facebook group who raised a question about dopamine issues when stopping smoking.

You can buy the latest upgrade of Allen Carr’s Easyway method now:

This new upgrade to the method now includes issues that simply didn’t exist when Allen first devised the method, as well as others that, following the passage of time, required enhanced analysis.

For example:

  • More in depth handling of “habit and triggers”
  • More about weight and appetite suppression
  • Self-harm issues
  • Depression & anxiety factors
  • Advice about weed/cannabis
  • The relationship between nicotine & dopamine

Buy the book in the UK here

Buy the book in the USA/Canada here

Buy the book in the Rest of the World here

Huge thanks to Dr Charles Nel & Cris Hay, Senior Allen Carr’s Easyway Therapists, for their assistance with this piece.

www.AllenCarr.com

Hey! While you’re here — please do sign up to Medium and follow me — I’m not 100% sure of where this project will go — but some followers might help — thanks :-)

Former 80-a-day smoker who was freed by Allen Carr. Now Global CEO & Senior Therapist at Allen Carr’s Easyway (since 1998) & co-author of Allen Carr books.