Smoking, Motivation and the Brain

The link between motivation and brain functions and structures continues to baffle neuroscience and psychology alike. What elicits the brain to think in a given direction when faced with a certain situation? Is it biological or behavioral? These are common questions among scholars, but with evolution in technology, most of these questions have answers now. This paper deals with the use of motivation to quit smoking and the role of the brain in the process.

Motivation is the intrinsic or extrinsic activation towards a goal-oriented behavior. Every action stems from the brain but this happens only after eliciting the brain to respond. In this case of quitting smoking, the desire to live a healthy life acts as the motivator. Fuelled by this desire, the brain responds respectively to achieve the desired effect. According to Hernandez (2008), the brain consists of numerous structures working in concert to relay information from the body to mind and vice versa. Information transfer in the brain is in a form of electric impulses moving along neurons. Dendrites, located at neurons’ terminals, receive information from the sensory organs, pass it through neurons and finally, it reaches the brain.

The brain suffers from several disorders from neurodegenerative diseases to neurological conditions. Since the output of the brain entails thoughts and behavior, these conditions may result in serious behavioral symptoms and altered thought patterns (Green facts, 2009). Initially, smoking did not fall under the category of brain disorder because its effects are stimulatory in nature and short-lived, but advances in neuroscience indicate otherwise. By the use of neuroimaging techniques, visualization of brain structure and function is possible. Positron emission tomography (PET) enables the study of metabolic functions of the brain.

Researches indicate that smoking results in a physical change in the brain hence altering its function. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that functions as adrenaline. It stimulates the brain hence controlling its processes like pain and pleasure among others. Smoking increases levels of dopamine in the brain thus leading to addiction. According to Volkow, Fowler, and Wang (2003), neuroscience reveals that an increase in dopamine levels in the brain leads to addiction. Dopamine disrupts the frontal cortical functions of the brain leading to compulsive use of drugs resulting in addiction.

So how does an increase in brain dopamine levels cause addiction? According to Volkow et al (2003), dopamine is the neurotransmitter used by drugs to reinforce their effects. A reinforcer is a situation or an event that will stimulate a subsequent response and drugs are great reinforcers. The brain consists of four circuits involved in addiction. They include the control circuit, which is located in the prefrontal cortex, memory and learning circuit found in the amygdala, reward circuit located in the ventral podium, and motivational drive found in orbit frontal cortex (Volkow et al, 2003).

The reward circuit results in addiction by creating a perpetuated environment that actuates neural adaptations. Motivational circuit results in addiction by victims attaching a great value to the drug such that it improves their ego. Addiction from the learning circuit results from sweet memories that the victim experiences after smoking. Even if this person tries to quit, nostalgia always plunges him or her, and the urge to smoke more and more mounts. These control circuits lead to changes in the prefrontal cortex thus changing its normal function. Dopamine activates all these circuits, resulting in addiction. The result is altered brain structures and functions, which cause the addicts to act strangely, in most cases, withdraw, and live a solitary life.

After understanding how addiction happens, the role of motivation in quitting smoking becomes relevant. According to Leshner (2007), addiction is a recurring chronic illness, which goes through several episodes of treatment before full recovery. In quitting smoking external motivators are necessary to initiate the process. Leshner concurs that it is almost impossible for addicts to quit on their own. This is because addiction is a disease that alters brain structures and functions and restoring the same, requires professional assistance. Victims lose control over what started as a voluntary action and within no time, they cross the point of no return. In the same way, schizophrenic patients cannot control their seizures and hallucinations, smokers cannot control their behavior.

In quitting smoking, motivators include family members, sickness among other issues that pester the victim to make decisions. These are extrinsic motivators but they score poorly compared to intrinsic motivators. However, extrinsic motivators act as a wake-up call and they usually precede the high-performing intrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators include a very strong desire to quit smoking. These motivators score highly when it comes to recovery. Desire is the seed of every successful story that ever existed in the history of humanity. It is on basis of desire that a victim will quit smoking successfully. Addiction affects the brain and desire emanates from the same department. This implies that with strong conviction and focusing on the benefits of quitting smoking, the process becomes easy.

Based on the definition of motivation, that is, the activation towards a goal-oriented behavior, the desire is the activator while quitting is the goal and living addiction-free life is the desired behavior. Without a personal willingness to quit smoking, all other attempts fall apart.

The brain has several divisions that perform different functions and dopamine affects the frontal lobe but not the lobe associated with critical thinking. This implies that an addict is conscious of this behavior and with an external motivator as intervention from a loved one; the victim can implement a recovery process from within. Many victims live in denial but psychologists warn that acceptance is the way to recovery. After acceptance and taking the responsibility of overcoming addiction, it is possible to recover fully.

The environment where a victim is in also acts as a motivator. Dennis & Scott (2007) established that recovery depended largely on the environment surrounding the victim. Staying around smoking people elicits a craving to have a puff and this happens through classical conditions associated with smoking. Victims exposed to areas where they smoked are likely to smoke yet again due to the memory and learning circuit of addiction mentioned in this paper.

Motivation thus plays a central role in the process of quitting smoking. Starting as a voluntary practice, one puff leads to another giving way to chain-smoking resulting in addiction. This changes the brain functions and structures leading to severe consequences. Nevertheless, such addiction is not a death sentence. Doctors and victims reveal that it is possible to recover fully and live a normal life. It is interesting though, that the very organ affected by addiction is also the organ, which holds the key to recovery. That is the brain armed with motivation, be it intrinsic or extrinsic.

Reference List

Dennis, M. & Scott, C. (2007). Managing Addiction as a Chronic Condition. Web.

GreenFacts. (2009). Scientific Facts on Psychoactive Drugs: Tobacco, Alcohol, and Illicit Substances.

Hernandez, C. (2008). Motivation and the Brain. Health and Wellness. Web.

Leishner, A. (2007). Addiction Is a Brain Disease. Web.

Volkow, D, Fowler, S, and Wang, G. (2003). The Addicted Human Brain: Insights From Imaging Studies. American Society for Clinical Investigation.