Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet.

Most vapes are full of nicotine. A 2019 study* showed that one Juul pod had as much nicotine in it as an entire pack of cigarettes.

How does nicotine addiction work? Addiction is both chemical and behavioural.

1. Chemical addiction

Nicotine is more addictive than alcohol and cannabis. Nicotine is addictive in the same way as cocaine and heroin, and can be just as hard to quit. People who have quit multiple substances sometimes say that nicotine was the hardest addiction to quit.

When you vape, nicotine travels to your brain within 7-10 seconds. Nicotine attaches itself to the “reward pathway” of the brain and causes the release of dopamine. This spike of dopamine can feel like a buzz or head rush.  Every time you vape, you get that feeling of reward, so you do it more. Over time, your body learns that it needs nicotine to feel good.  


Chemical formula for nicotine: C10 H14 N2. Graphic of carbon molecules, hydrogen molecules, and nitrogen molecules.

Your brain gets used to nicotine over time, though. Your brain creates new dopamine receptors just for nicotine. You start needing more and more nicotine to get that dopamine rush. When you go without nicotine, you experience withdrawal symptoms (think: headache, irritability, restlessness) that cause you to reach for your vape again. That's when you know you’re addicted.

Graphic about each step nicotine does in the brain
  1. Nicotine delivered by vaping

  2. Nicotine travels to the brain 

  3. Nicotine activates nicotinic receptors which stimulates the release of dopamine 

  4. Dopamine released, leading pleasant feelings of calmness and rewards 

  5. Dopamine levels reduce, leading to withdrawal symptoms of stress and anxiety 

  6. Withdrawal triggers desire for another vape 

2. Behavioural

Nicotine use is also behavioural. Your brain seeks comfortable and recognizable patterns. So, when you vape regularly, you develop conditioned signals, or “triggers,” for vaping. You become dependent on actions associated with using your vape. For example, you might always vape between classes or when you feel anxious. When vaping gets integrated into your routine and your behaviours, it’s harder to quit or cut down.  

It can help to monitor your vaping behaviour to understand when and why you’re vaping. This way, you can plan out alternatives, so you don’t turn to your vape. Use our Tally Sheet to get started.

Get the Tally Sheet 


Quitting is tough, but so are you.

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