Health Library

Nicotine Addiction

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Nicotine addiction is dependence on nicotine. Being dependent means there is a physical change in how your body reacts to a substance. Your body will also have a reaction when you stop using the substance. Nicotine can be found in tobacco products such as cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco, cigars, or pipes.

Tobacco use is also associated with several serious health conditions, such as:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Cancer, like cancers of the larynx (voice box), oral cavity, throat, esophagus, lung, and colon
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk of stillbirth, infant death, low birth weight, miscarriage, premature delivery, or sudden infant death syndrome
  • Alcohol or drug use disorders
  • Depression, bipolar, anxiety, personality, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders
  • Shorter life span
  • Problems if you have surgery
Throat Cancer
Throat cancer
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Nicotine addition can be treated, often with a combination of therapies.


Nicotine acts on the brain's chemistry. It creates feelings of pleasure. However, the effects go away within a few minutes. Users will need to continue using nicotine to keep the good feelings going. This cycle can lead to addiction.

Risk Factors

Anyone who uses nicotine products can become addicted to the substance.

The risk may increased with:

  • Family history or exposure to smoking
  • Exposure to smoking in movies
  • Depression
  • Victims of bullying


Symptoms develop when nicotine is not being used, also known as withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Irritability
  • Craving
  • Nervousness
  • Headache
  • Thinking and attention problems
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased appetite


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical, and smoking history. A physical exam will be done.

Breathing tests may also be done to see how well your lungs are working.

Your doctor may monitor your nicotine use by checking a cotinine level in your saliva or blood.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment may involve 1 or more therapies. Options include:

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)

NRT relieves withdrawal symptoms. NRT products include:

  • Nicotine gum
  • Lozenges
  • Nasal sprays
  • Patches
  • Inhalers

The chance of abusing these products is low since NRT does not create "feel good" feelings.

NRT may help you to:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Reduce the amount of tobacco you use
  • Quit and stay smoke-free

Electronic Cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) turn liquid nicotine into a vapor that can be puffed. Some smokers have used e-cigarettes to help them quit. Right now, there is conflicting evidence on whether or not this is the case.

However, 1 promising review of 2 studies showed the 6-month quit rate for e-cigarettes was higher than a non-nicotine placebo. In one of the studies, e-cigarettes were as effective as nicotine patches after 6 months. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), along with several major anti-smoking organizations, have determined that there has not been enough research on e-cigarettes to make any claims about their safety or effectiveness in helping people quit smoking. In addition, the long-term effects of e-cigarette use are not known.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapies include:

  • Counseling
  • Group behavior therapy
  • Telephone quit lines, cell phone programs, and text messaging programs
  • Internet and computer-based programs
  • Self-help classes and manuals
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy


Some antidepressants and nicotine partial agonists may help you quit. Other medications may help ease withdrawal symptoms or block the effects of nicotine if you start smoking again.


The best prevention is to never use tobacco products. Try to avoid places where people are smoking.


American Cancer Society

American Lung Association—Freedom From Smoking


Canadian Resources

Canadian Cancer Society

The Lung Association


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