Vaping has become a major trend among teens and young people, but we know very little about its addictive potential.

Is vaping addictive? It would seem so, considering how popular it has become. However, to answer this question, we should look at what active ingredients are added to e-liquid.

Vaporizers or electronic cigarettes are sometimes marketed as ways to quit smoking, but research is finding that it may be just as addictive as traditional cigarettes. One study even suggests that smokers were 28% less likely to quit smoking when using e-cigarettes.

Hidden Dangers Behind Teens and Vaping

E-liquid used for vaping contains a basic set of ingredients: base fluid, flavoring and an active ingredient like nicotine. The base fluids most commonly used are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Flavorings are often fruit or caramel, with ingredients like acetoin, cinnamaldehyde, and diacetyl. Active ingredients are typically nicotine or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

E-cigarettes are largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since the FDA has not caught up with the vaping industry, the information from the labels and packaging on e-liquid may be misleading or false. The long-term risks of vaping are currently unknown.

Studies have found instances of nicotine levels listed incorrectly and even some nicotine-free brands that contained nicotine.

E-cigarettes have the potential to provide a false sense of security to teens and parents when they can’t know for sure if the product is nicotine free.

If teens are exposed to nicotine at a young age, research suggests that that exposure creates a higher likelihood of developing substance use disorders later in life, including:

  • Nicotine Addiction: Nicotine is known to be highly addictive, potentially as much as cocaine or opioid pain medications. Nicotine causes cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which can be alleviated by consuming more nicotine. This cycle of euphoria, crash and craving is the basis of addictive behavior.
  • Marijuana Addiction: The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is THC, which is known to have some potential for addiction, but not as much as nicotine. THC is a common additive in e-liquid and is still illegal in most states.
  • Illicit Drug Addiction: Recently, stories have emerged of homemade vape liquid containing illicit drugs such as fentanyl or heroin, which are both extremely potent opioids. Homemade vape fluid has a high potential for danger and addiction because any drug can be mixed in. There is no research surrounding illicit drug use in vapes, so the danger of overdose is great. All homemade vape fluid should be considered dangerous and possibly toxic.

Teen Vaping As A Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addiction, or process addiction, is linked to a particular behavior rather than a substance. Behavioral addictions have the same components of substance addiction: compulsive behavior, tolerance, and reward, even at risk to one’s health.

Behavioral addictions are not common on their own, but a behavioral addiction can provide some mild reinforcement for other addictions.

For example, someone may enjoy vaping with friends, so the social aspect reinforces the behavior in addition to the substance.

Summary: Can You Get Addicted to Vaping?

Yes. The bottom line is that no matter how someone consumes an addictive substance, it remains addictive.

Nicotine is known to be addictive, regardless of the method of consumption. Other substances like THC carry addictive potential as well.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Conor Sheehy
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

Chen, Chuan-Yu, et al. “Early-Onset Drug Use and Risk for Drug Dependence Problems.” Addictive Behaviors, 2009. Accessed 29 July 28, 2019.

Kalkhoran, Sara, and Stanton A Glantz. “E-Cigarettes and Smoking Cessation in[…]nd Meta-Analysis.” 2016. Accessed 29 July 2019.

Medline Plus. “Marijuana.” 2013. Accessed 29 July 2019.

Medline Plus. “Nicotine and Tobacco.” 2016. Accessed 29 July 2019.

Psychology Today. “What Is a Behavioral Addiction?” 2016. Accessed 29 July 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.