Quick Facts about Nicotine
- Nicotine reaches the brain in less than 7 seconds.
- Nicotine is as addictive as opioids, alcohol, 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.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and behavioural coaching can help you quit/reduce nicotine products.
How does nicotine addiction work?
When you smoke or vape, nicotine travels to your brain within 7 seconds and causes the release of various chemicals that may affect your mood. 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 lead to feeling stressed or agitated, prompting you to smoke or vape again.
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.
Many people think that smoking or vaping relieves stress, but it is actually the opposite. The feel-good chemicals that are released in the brain when you smoke or vape work to temporarily reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. However, this is short-lived. In fact, as a result of nicotine addiction, feelings of anxiety and stress can worsen. This is because when you go without nicotine for a period, you can experience irritability and restlessness among other symptoms.
The relief and the feeling of relaxation that you get from smoking or vaping is actually just relief from the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal- it is not helping you deal with the source of stress.
Health Risks of Nicotine
The biggest health risk of nicotine is addiction, and nicotine affects every system of the body, including cardiovascular, respiratory, renal, and reproductive. Nicotine use also 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).
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.
Nicotine is addictive and the more you use it, the harder it can be to quit. Using nicotine actually changes the chemistry in your brain. It increases the number of nicotine receptors in the brain. This triggers a cycle of cravings and nicotine use that maintains addiction.
When you are trying to quit nicotine, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms from the lack of nicotine. Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased hunger