Drugs & Health Blog

Why Is Nicotine So Addictive?

©Shutterstock/Jurgis Mankauskas

The NIDA Blog Team

Tobacco use is the top preventable cause of disease and death in the United States. Cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. That’s about 1,300 deaths every day.

Once they start smoking, people usually have a hard time quitting. This is because of the addictive chemical nicotine, a main ingredient in tobacco. But what makes nicotine so addictive?

Brain training

Consuming nicotine—through regular cigarettes or vaping—leads to the release of the chemical dopamine in the human brain. As with many drugs, dopamine prompts or “teaches” the brain to repeat the same behavior (such as using tobacco) over and over. This is also known as reinforcement.

But here’s the catch: The brain gets a dopamine “hit” from nicotine every time a person takes a puff on a cigarette or inhales vapor from an e-cigarette that contains nicotine.

Vicious cycle

A typical smoker takes 10 or more puffs on each cigarette, so a person who smokes about one pack (25 cigarettes) daily gets at least 250 “hits” every day. That’s a lot of “teaching” the brain to keep using nicotine. And repeated use increases the risk of addiction.  

Whether a person consumes nicotine through tobacco or vaping, its reinforcing effects might be much more harmful than the user imagines.

This might also be why teens who try vaping often switch to regular cigarettes—to get more and more of the nicotine that the brain now craves.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

My dad keeps saying he wants to quit but continues to smoke like 2 or sometimes 3 packs a day and has venus insufficiency (blood clots) and constantly drinks soda. I don't know how to help him anymore.

It’s great that you care so much about your dad. Keep trying to talk to him! Figuring out how to help someone quit smoking can be tricky. But there are things you can do. Listen without making judgments. Suggest that he talk to a doctor about finding help. Share scientific information about what smoking can do to a person. Get the latest on how smoking affects the brain and body here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts. Once your dad understands how smoking affects the brain, body, and life, it might open his eyes.

I dont think its about opening anyone's eyes. Regular Smokers like me (who have started 4-5years ago or more), know the side effects very well. But arent able to help it. We need tips to be able to train our brain to quit. I quit several times, longest being about 24 months. However, it came back with a vengeance now!! I want to quit like his dad, every single time i smoke. but am not able to :(
thanks for the help on my project
I’m a teen and I’ve been vaping and I think I’m addicted to nicotine. I take breaks every once In awhile and when I do , I don’t crave it when I’m busy like in school or at sports but when I’m at home with nothing to do that’s when I really get cravings. Any advice for me to help quit

It’s very brave of you to want to quit. For advice, please check out our blog on this topic: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/you-said-it-i-know-someone-who-sta....

Also, we recommend you talk with an adult you trust, like a parent, teacher, coach, or counselor. When and if you’re ready to seek professional help, you can find treatment in your area by calling 1-800-662-4357 (toll-free) or visit this website and enter your location: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/. This free service is available 24/7/365. We wish you the best.

A lot of people actually using vaping as a way of quitting smoking aswell. I’d recommend using it to quit smoking — not just because it’s ‘fun’. If you’ve never smoked a smoke and start vaping first instead you’re probably more likely to get onto smokes, that’s what happened to me and I really, really regret it. It’s so hard to give up cigarettes and if you’ve never smoked one keep it that way, because these days it’s not cool to smoke, it’s cool to quit.

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