Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in tobacco and vaping products. Learn about nicotine addiction, the health risks of nicotine, and how to break the cycle of nicotine addiction and quit for good.

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Quick Facts

  • Nicotine reaches the brain in less than 7 seconds. 
  • Nicotine is more addictive than alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine. 
  • It is a myth that nicotine reduces stress. Once addicted to nicotine, withdrawal can worsen stress and anxiety. 
  • Young people are more vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and can get addicted more easily. 
  • One vape pod can contain as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. 
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and behavioural coaching can help you quit/reduce nicotine products.

How does nicotine addiction work?

Nicotine is a stimulant and causes your brain to release dopamine, the “feel-good chemical”, when you first start to use it.  It can also temporarily improve concentration and alertness and make you feel more relaxed. This feeling is only temporary, though, and when it goes away, your body wants more.  This can make you feel stressed or agitated, prompting you to smoke or vape again.

Learn about Nicotine, dopamine reward pathway in the brain

Over time, your brain gets used to receiving nicotine from cigarettes or vaping and starts to crave it, eventually making you dependent, meaning you need more and more nicotine to feel ‘good’. As soon as you stop smoking or vaping, and your nicotine levels drop, you go into withdrawal, and can experience various unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. The only things that will relieve these symptoms are either more nicotine, or time without nicotine (quitting). This is one of the things that makes it so hard to quit.

Health Risks of Nicotine

The biggest health risk of nicotine is addiction, but nicotine affects every system of the body, including cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, and reproductive. Nicotine increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and can cause reproductive toxicity in expectant mothers. It may also increase the risk of certain types of cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

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Young people under 25 are especially vulnerable to the effects of nicotine, as their brains are still developing. Since young people’s brains are still developing, they can get addicted to nicotine more easily than those over age 25.

Nicotine use in adolescence also affects:


Mood: Harms one’s ability to process emotions, increases risk of depression and/or anxiety, and increases irritability and restlessness.


Cognitive function: Can lead to or worsen learning disorders and harm memory and concentration. These effects can persist into adulthood and worsen with age.

Withdrawal symptoms and nicotine cravings can be challenging to manage, but there are some tools that can help:

Behavioural Support

Talking to a Quit Coach helps you work through the psychological aspects of nicotine addiction and develop the skills and tools you need to quit.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT products are the safest way to consume nicotine. They deliver controlled doses of nicotine and do not carry the negative health effects of smoking or vaping. Using NRT can help you manage nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Gradual Reduction

Transition to lower nicotine concentrations, try to smoke/vape less frequently, and cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke per day or times you use nicotine-based products daily.

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