Teen nicotine addiction is not new; different generations of teenagers in the United States have experimented with nicotine. Learn more about teen nicotine addiction in the era of vaping and e-cigarettes.

Nicotine addiction is defined as a dependence on the drug nicotine. Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs on earth and is commonly found in many tobacco products like cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. When nicotine is absorbed and metabolized by the body, the hormone adrenaline is secreted by organs known as the adrenal glands. In this case, adrenaline sparks feelings of pleasure and gives individuals a quick burst of energy.

Different individuals react differently to nicotine. Some people feel shaky while others feel more clear-headed after consuming products with nicotine. On the positive side, the use of opioids has been decreasing steadily in the teenage population in recent years. Unfortunately, nicotine and marijuana use has become increasingly popular with legalization and due to the popularity of e-cigarette use in advertising and media. Thus, teen addiction to nicotine can easily happen from regularly using e-cigarettes, cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Teen Nicotine Addiction Statistics

Some health officials consider vaping the next big public health crisis due to lack of government oversight and regulation about what ingredients are used in e-cigarettes and similar products. Though there is more regulation of regular tobacco products than e-cigarettes currently, having an accurate and up-to-date understanding about teen vaping, cigarette smoking and other tobacco use is of the utmost importance. Additionally, having knowledge about teen nicotine addiction statistics is critical to have an honest and open conversation with teenagers.

Recent teenage cigarette smoking statistics include:
  • Every day in the U.S., over 3,000 teens under 18 try their first cigarette.
  • Over 2,000 teens and young adults who only occasionally smoke will develop into daily cigarette smokers.
  • Nearly one out of 13 teens under 18 may die a premature death due to a smoking-related illness if the current rate of smoking among the youth remains the same as it is today.
  • The most common tobacco product currently on the market used by young adults and teens is e-cigarettes.
  • Young adults and teens who use smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes are more likely to become actual cigarette smokers later in life.
  • Almost half-a-million teens from the ages of 12-17 use some form of smokeless tobacco, with the majority of those individuals being male (~85% male).

Teen Vaping and Nicotine Addiction

Since teen vaping is so popular among the youth in the United States, nicotine addiction has become a very realistic prospect for teens who use these products frequently. The phenomenon of teenagers vaping has been magnified by social media and many different news outlets. Teenage vaping statistics from 2018 include:

  • 21.5% of 8th graders, 36.9% of 10th graders and 42.5% of 12th graders reported vaping at least once in their lives.
  • 17.6% of 8th graders, 32.3% of 10th graders and 37.3% of 12th graders reported vaping in the past year.
  • 10.4% of 8th graders, 21.7% of 10th graders and 26.7% of 12th graders reported vaping in the past month.
  • Of teens who reported vaping in the past year, teens report vaping nicotine, marijuana or hash oil or simply for the flavors.

These alarming statistics suggest that many teens have at least tried vaping, with more use reported by older teens about to graduate high school. Because close to 40% of 12th grade students have reported vaping at least once in the past year, the potential for addiction is enormous in this population.

Nicotine Addiction Symptoms in Teens

How can a parent, guardian, friend or loved one recognize nicotine addiction in teens? Nicotine addiction symptoms may be obvious or more subtle depending on the teen. Some symptoms will be more uncomfortable than others, especially if a teen has developed a physical dependence on nicotine. It is even possible for individuals who infrequently use nicotine products to become addicted or at the very least have a difficult time trying to drop the bad habit.

Some signs of nicotine addiction may include
  • Excessive cravings for tobacco products
  • Making sure one always has tobacco on hand
  • Going out of their way to get tobacco products if they don’t have any (e.g. during a snowstorm or extremely late at night)
  • Anxiousness or irritability if going too long without a tobacco product or unable to use one (e.g. the airport)
  • Using tobacco products even though there are negative physical consequences
  • Inability to stop using tobacco even if a teen

Parents and guardians should take note that their teen may go through withdrawal from nicotine if they do not use a tobacco product for an extended time period. Though nicotine withdrawal may not be as difficult as withdrawals from other drugs (e.g. heroin), nevertheless this will be a difficult time for a teen. Importantly, withdrawal symptoms ease after a few days of not using tobacco products.

Effects of Nicotine on Teens

Besides becoming addicted to nicotine, what are the potential effects of nicotine on the teenage brain? Stated in another way, what are the effects of smoking in adolescence whether teens use cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or other forms? In particular, what does preliminary research suggest about e-cigarettes and teenagers? To answer these important questions, an individual must have an understanding of the physical, behavioral and mental health effects of nicotine on teens.

First, nicotine has negative effects on the teenage brain. Namely, the adult brain is still developing and is not fully “mature” until a person reaches 25 years of age. This means that almost all teenagers’ brains are still developing when they try smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes or even marijuana. Nicotine can decrease a teen’s impulse control and can increase a teen’s likelihood of developing an addiction later in life, even to completely different drugs than tobacco.

Further, early research on e-cigarettes and vaping suggests that like regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes are made with harmful chemicals from flavoring and even a volatile chemical known as benzene. Thus, there are many harmful effects on targets who use nicotine in whatever form.

Talking to Teens About Nicotine Use

What is the best way for parents to talk to their teen about smoking? Additionally, how can parents broach the subject of e-cigarettes and youth? There are several tips for having an open, non-judgmental and positive discussion about smoking.

Some of these tips include:
  • Spend adequate time with teens rather than having their most important influences come from outside figures.
  • Provide consistent data about why nicotine products are bad and the negative physical and mental effects they can have on a person’s health.
  • Start talking to teens well before their teenage years about why smoking is bad.
  • If parents or guardians smoke themselves, this would be a good time to quit to set a good example for teens. If quitting is not an option, smoke in private away from teens.
  • Discuss ways to decline cigarettes, marijuana or e-cigarettes if in certain social situations.
  • If a teen decides to smoke or vape, discuss ways to help them quit rather than invoke punishment.
  • Discuss with teens (a philosophical discussion) about how advertising and mass media has had a role in their use or addiction to nicotine.

Help for Teens Addicted to Nicotine

How can parents help their teens addicted to nicotine? In the United States, there are many different options for nicotine addiction treatment. For example, teens may opt to go to inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facilities, meet with support groups, see trained counselors or visit therapy, among other options.

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Editor – Rob Alston
Rob Alston has traveled around Australia, Japan, Europe, and America as a writer and editor for industries including personal wellness and recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Bonnie Bullock, PHD
Bonnie is a medical communications specialist at Boston Strategic Partners, a global health industry consulting firm. Her recent work in mental health includes developing conference materials for clinical studies in mood disorders and copy-editing clinical manuscripts. Read more

American Lung Association. “Tips for Talking to Kids About Smoking.” March 4, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019.

KnowTheRisks. “E-Cigarettes and Young People.” 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Tobacco, Nicotine, & E-Cigarettes.” September 9, 2019. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Smokefree.gov. “Nicotine & Addiction.” Accessed September 18, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.