, Volume 117, Issue 1, pp 2-10

The scientific case that nicotine is addictive

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Abstract

Despite the wide-ranging and authoritative 1988 review by the US Surgeon General, views questioning the addictiveness of nicotine contine to be expressed in some quarters. This lack of complete consensus is not unexpected, since no universally agreed scientific definition of addiction exists. In this paper we briefly consider a number of lines of evidence from both the human and animal literature bearing on the addictiveness of nicotine. Patterns of use by smokers and the remarkable intractability of the smoking habit point to compulsive use as the norm. Studies in both animal and human subjects have shown that nicotine can function as reinforcer, albeit under a more limited range of conditions than with some other drugs of abuse. In drug discrimination paradigms there is some cross-generalisation between nicotine on the one hand, and amphetamine and cocaine on the other. A well-defined nicotine withdrawal syndrome has been delineated which is alleviated by nicotine replacement. Nicotine replacement also enhances outcomes in smoking cessation, roughly doubling success rates. In total, the evidence clearly identifies nicotine as a powerful drug of addiction, comparable to heroin, cocaine and alcohol.