6 Things to Know About Nicotine Addiction

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Chris Illiades, MD on September 18, 2020
  • Address Emotions and Addiction
    Nicotine addiction is powerful, but can be prevented and stopped.
    Almost every smoker knows smoking is bad for your health. That is not a big secret. Still, people continue to smoke. The reason is nicotine. It is a very addictive drug. Addiction is being unable to stop doing something, even if you know it will harm you. The fact is most people who try to quit smoking start again, many of them within a week. Knowledge is a powerful weapon. For people trying to quit, it helps to know how addiction works—and ways to stop it.
  • Health Stories - Brain and Nerves
    1. Nicotine changes your brain.
    Nicotine stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain. It does this by increasing the level of a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine release may cause you to feel less stressed, more alert, and more relaxed. Within 10 seconds of inhaling tobacco smoke, nicotine floods your brain and causes release of dopamine. Over time, your brain starts to expect this extra dopamine. This brain change is addiction. 
  • Cocaine
    2. Nicotine acts like other addictive drugs.
    Other addictive drugs, like cocaine and heroin, also act on dopamine. They stimulate the same pleasure centers and cause long-term brain changes that lead to addiction. One difference is the effects of heroin or cocaine last for hours. The peak effect of nicotine lasts for only seconds. That is why smokers need to take many puffs to keep getting their hit of nicotine. A pack-a-day smoker will take more than 200 hits of nicotine every day. 
  • Woman with headache, migraine, stress, insomnia, hangover
    3. Addiction causes physical withdrawal.
    Once your brain becomes addicted to nicotine, it does not like it when you stop smoking. Your brain will start to crave nicotine. These cravings can be hard to resist. Cravings can be triggered by activities you associate with smoking. Over a period of a few weeks after you stop, the cravings will lessen. Eventually they will go away. Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include irritability, anxiety and depression. You may have trouble concentrating and sleeping. The important thing to remember during this time is help is available. Talk with a doctor if you are suffering because prescription medicines can help relieve symptoms of withdrawal.
  • How Cancer Spreads to the Bones
    4. Nicotine addiction is harmful.
    Pure nicotine is very toxic. It can cause vomiting, convulsions and death. The amount of nicotine you get from smoking or chewing tobacco can raise your blood pressure and your heart rate, but it is not deadly. The greater danger comes from the chemicals in tobacco and the gases from smoked tobacco. These toxins cause about a third of all cancers. They also cause chronic lung disease, heart disease and stroke
  • Woman Applying a Nicotine Patch
    5. Nicotine replacement is safe.
    Nicotine itself does not cause cancer or other diseases. That means you can safely wean yourself off nicotine with a nicotine replacement treatment. You get small doses of nicotine through a gum or a patch. This eliminates the harmful tobacco substances. Nicotine replacement therapy makes nicotine withdrawal easier. Besides gum and patches, there are nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays. There are no known long-term or serious harmful effects from these treatments. 
  • Join the Quitters!
    6. Starting is easier than quitting.
    It's easy to get addicted to nicotine. Young people may be especially prone to becoming addicted. Studies show that addiction to nicotine in young smokers can occur from smoking just a few cigarettes in a month. Quitting smoking on your own can be tough. Most smokers need a few tries to quit the habit. If you're struggling, talk with your doctor. Replacement therapies and smoking cessation programs can help you kick your nicotine addiction. 
6 Things to Know About Nicotine Addiction

About The Author

  1. DrugFacts: Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products. National Institutes of Health. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cigarettes-other-tobacco-products
  2. Is Nicotine Addictive? National Institutes of Health. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco/nicotine-addictive
  3. How to Handle Withdrawal Symptoms and Triggers When You Decide to Quit Smoking. National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/withdrawal-fact-sheet
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  5. Are There Effective Treatments for Tobacco Addiction? National Institutes ofHealth. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco/are-there-effective-treatments-tobac...
  6. Nicotine Addiction Can Happen Quickly, Researchers Say. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. http://www.drugfree.org/news-service/nicotine-addiction-can-happen-quickly-researchers-say/
  7. Withdrawal and Relapse from Tobacco Use. American Thoracic Society. http://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/withdrawal-and-relapse.pdf?gclid=CjwKEA...
  8. Medicines That Can Help You Quit Smoking. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/Medicines-That-Can-Help-You-...

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 18
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.