Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, very commonly used throughout the United States specifically, but also throughout the world. Nicotine primarily causes addiction, and can lead to health problems, and even death.

What is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a colorless liquid. It is known to turn brown when burned, and once exposed to the air, nicotine acquires the smell of tobacco. The Tabacum species of plant is now the major source of tobacco for tobacco products in today's world.
Cigarettes are the most common form of nicotine addiction in the United States, containing approximately 10 mg of nicotine per cigarette, though sometimes may contain even more. It is said that about 1 to 2 mg of nicotine is inhaled by the smoker per cigarette.

Forms of Nicotine

  • Cigarettes (Most common form)
  • Chewing Tobacco
  • Pipes
  • Cigars
  • Snuff

How is it Absorbed?

Nicotine can be absorbed through both the skin, and mucosal lining of the mouth or nose, and also through inhalation in the lungs. Within 10 seconds of inhalation through smoking, it is said that nicotine can already reach the brain. However, because cigar users do not typically inhale the smoke, it takes longer for the nicotine to reach the brain. (, 1999-2009)

Why is it so Addictive?

It is important to take into account a few reasonings for the high addictiveness of nicotine.
When using a drug over and over, your body begins to build a tolerance for the drug. Once your body has acquired this tolerance, you need more of the drug to feel it's same effect as before. This causes addiction, because of the constant use and increased use of a drug.
Nicotine increases the levels of Dopamine - a neurotransmitter that gives the feeling of pleasure and reward - in the brain. This causes the user to feel pleasure when using nicotine. Researchers believe that this is why it is so hard for people to quit smoking - they cannot lose that feeling of pleasure and reward, that is so caused by nicotine. (Bellum, 1998)
One last reason for the high addictiveness of nicotine to take into concern is how easily people can get their hands on it. Also, there is a small number of legal and social consequences regarding the use of nicotine. The sophistication in the advertisement and marketing of nicotine also plays a key role in addiction to nicotine. (, 1999-2009)

  • Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are still a part of addiction, because ultimately only addicts will feel the true peak of these symptoms. When an addict stops using a drug, they experience these symptoms, which include, but are not limited to: restlessness, depression, hunger, headaches, and other uncomfortable feelings. (Bellum, 1998)

Effects of Nicotine

The "Good" Effects
  • Pleasure
  • Reward
  • Sort of an "adrenaline rush"

The Bad Effects
  • Addiction
  • Lung Cancer
  • Emphysema
  • Bronchial Disorders
  • Carbon Monoxide in the smoke can cause cardiovascular diseases
  • If smoking while pregnant, can cause stillborns, premature infants, and development of conduct disorders.
  • Secondhand smoke - can lead to lung cancer, respiratory illnesses in children, and sudden infant death.
(, 1999-2009)


  1. Bellum, Sara (1998). NIDA for Teens. Mind Over Matter: Nicotine. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from
  2. Home Drug Testing Kit (1999-2009). Nicotine. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from

Julie Kuberski
AP Psychology
January 4, 2009