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What Is Nicotine?

What Is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant found in tobacco and vaping devices. Nicotine (NIK-eh-teen) is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

How Is Nicotine Used?

Nicotine is typically inhaled by smoking cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, or by using vaping devices or waterpipes (such as hookahs). Some people put a piece or a pinch of tobacco (called smokeless tobacco) into their mouths and absorb nicotine through the lining of their mouths. Some people sniff nicotine through the nose.

Nicotine also can be used to help people quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy provides a small amount of nicotine to the body without the other harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke and other tobacco products. It can help relieve cravings for cigarettes or tobacco and symptoms of withdrawal (such as feeling anxious, sad, or angry; feeling restless, tired, or bored; trouble concentrating; increased appetite; headaches; and insomnia). Nicotine replacement therapy comes in different forms, such as gum, patch, lozenge, nasal spray or inhaler.

What Does Nicotine Do?

Nicotine can temporarily make someone feel alert and better able to concentrate. It can also relieve stress and anxiety and improve mood. But these effects go away quickly, which is why people keep going back to cigarettes and other tobacco products and eventually get addicted. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine, which makes it very hard to quit. Those who start smoking or vaping before age 21 have the hardest time breaking the habit.

Other effects of nicotine use include rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and shortness of breath. It can decrease appetite, and cause nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and headaches.

Users have an increased risk for lung diseases, heart disease, and stroke. Brain development can be affected, even in older teens.

Where Can I Find Help?

If you or someone in your family needs help to quit using nicotine, you can find support online at:

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: Jan 1, 2024

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