Skip to main content

Is Nicotine a Drug?

Is nicotine a drug?Nicotine, a component of tobacco, is a widely available, highly addictive drug. Like other drugs that lead to addiction, nicotine use is marked by compulsive drug-seeking behavior, even in the face of negative consequences. If stopped abruptly, withdrawal symptoms and severe cravings occur, leading to a high rate of relapse among those trying to quit the habit.

Despite steady declines in tobacco use in the United States over the last two decades or more, nearly 40 million American adults still smoke cigarettes – the most prevalent form of nicotine delivery – according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 4.7 million adolescents used some form of tobacco, including e-cigarettes, in 2015. Among people with any type of mental illness, including co-occurring substance use disorders, the rate of smoking is two to four times higher than in the general public.

Like other addictive drugs, nicotine activates the reward pathways in the brain that increase dopamine production in response to pleasure. Nicotine also stimulates adrenaline production, which causes a “rush.” Smoking cigarettes is the single fastest way to deliver nicotine to the brain. More than 7,000 chemicals are present in tobacco smoke, including tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, and nitrosamines. Many of these other chemicals also contribute to the addictive properties of smoking tobacco.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking kills nearly half-a-million Americans each year, either directly or through secondhand smoke. More people die of smoking-related illnesses than of alcohol, illicit drugs, car accidents, suicide, homicide, and AIDS combined. Tobacco use causes a host of illnesses, and accounts for a third of all cancer deaths. As the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the country, tobacco use costs the U.S. nearly $170 billion a year in health care costs.

Some 35 million Americans say they’ve tried to quit smoking, but about 85 percent of them report failing at it. Even with widely available aids to quitting, such as nicotine gum and nicotine patches, most smokers typically relapse within a week, due to severe withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Intense cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cognitive deficits

For help in quitting your nicotine addiction, call the National Cancer Institute: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).

Addiction to nicotine often goes hand-in-hand with addiction to drugs and alcohol. With treatment, you can end your enslavement to addictive substances of any kind. To fully recover in mind, body, and spirit requires professional guidance. You have work to do. At Harmony Place, you never have to do the work alone. We believe in your right of self-determination. We’re meeting where you are and taking you where you want to go. For information about our total continuum of care and luxury residential treatment, as well as a private consultation, call us today: 1-855-652-9048