As a growing number of teens and young people vape, we’re learning more about the risks and addictive nature of vaping.

Is vaping addictive? Recent science says, “yes.” The idea when vaping was initially introduced was that it was a less addictive and less harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes that would help smokers quit. Now, vaping has turned into a serious public health situation, and many are warning against its potentially harmful effects, particularly for young people.

Vaping Statistics

Vaping statistics and in particular, teen vaping statistics, show some troubling trends. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that teens are using vaping devices in record numbers.

While rates of tobacco use among young people are at a record-low, researchers and doctors worry vaping is going to contribute to a gradual transition to traditional cigarettes and increase overall smoking rates.

According to the Truth Initiative, there are patterns that show that, when it comes to adults and vaping, some are supplementing their use of traditional cigarettes with vaping, rather than replacing their cigarette use entirely.

Common signs & symptoms of vaping addiction:

  • Using vaping to cope with stress
  • Using a vape device even when it causes negative health-related side effects or problems in your life
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • Difficulty breathing or other respiratory complications
  • Changes in mood and behavior, such as anxiety, depression or irritability

How Nicotine Changes the Brain

When someone inhales nicotine, it absorbs into their blood and starts to affect the brain within 10 seconds. Nicotine affects the brain by changing the relationship between certain neurotransmitters and receptor sites. Specifically, nicotine alters how acetylcholine (ACh) interacts with receptor sites.

When it’s functioning as it should, ACh plays a vital role in functions such as memory and cognition, as well as muscle contraction. When nicotine attaches to ACh receptors instead of the ACh, it triggers a feel-good brain response. Someone who is using nicotine may experience brief increases in feelings of focus, alertness, euphoria or relaxation.

Can Vaping Disrupt Brain Development?

Nicotine changes the signaling of certain molecules in the brain, including dopamine — cells in the brain change with repeated exposure to nicotine. The brain isn’t able to release its own pleasure-creating chemicals as easily. Additionally, teens will need more nicotine to get high with repeated exposure.

These effects on the brain can contribute to symptoms like anxiety and depression. While some of them may go away with time, other effects may be long-lasting. For example, when teens use nicotine products, they could experience persistent problems with impulse control, focus and attention, even after they stop using nicotine.

Is Vaping Addictive Without Nicotine?

A frequent question people have surrounds whether or not vaping is addictive without nicotine. So, is nicotine-free vaping addictive? In short, we don’t know. Since the effects of vaping haven’t been widely studied over the long-term yet, it’s hard to tell. In general, vaping without nicotine probably isn’t addictive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any side effects.

For example, vaping without nicotine can still lead to irritation of the mouth and airways. It can also trigger an inflammatory response in the lungs.

Vaping More Addictive Than Smoking, But Why?

How addictive is nicotine in vapes, and is vaping more addictive than smoking? The answer is likely “yes.” So just how addictive is vaping, and why is that the case? One reason is that many vape device liquids contain flavoring in addition to nicotine. These flavorings are more palatable and don’t come with the burning sensation or the taste of cigarettes, making people more likely to vape more frequently. Over time, this means increased exposure to nicotine.

Ease of Use

Vape devices like the Juul are very easy to use, which may be another reason it’s more addictive for some people. These devices are tiny and highly portable, plus you don’t have to worry about carrying a lighter or matches.According to doctors, one Juul pod is equivalent to 20 cigarettes, or one full pack. Using a Juul pod is much easier than taking out a cigarette, getting a lighter, and lighting a cigarette. Because vaping doesn’t have the bad smells associated with cigarettes, people can smoke them in more areas, further decreasing traditional barriers to nicotine use.

Method of Use

Some types of vaping devices can deliver more nicotine than traditional cigarettes, which is another reason they may be more addictive.

How to Quit Vaping

Learning how to quit vaping can be a challenge. Vaping addiction can lead to psychological symptoms, and quitting can also cause nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Some tips for quitting vaping include:

  • Engaging in physical activity to encourage natural dopamine production
  • Distracting yourself during cravings
  • Finding healthy ways to deal with stress
  • Celebrating small milestones and successes

If you or your teen is struggling with a substance use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village offers a variety of treatment programs that are personalized and evidence-based. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn more.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more

Capritto, Amanda. “Why vaping is so addictive according to doctors.” CNET, August 8, 2019. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Truth Initiative. “E-Cigarette Regulations.” July 19, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2019.

National Institutes of Health. “Teens Using Vaping Devices in Record Numbers.” December 17, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Feldhausen, Teresa Shipley. “Explainer: The nico-teen brain.” Science News for Students. August 19, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2019.

Truth Initiative. “Quitting vaping? Here are 5 tips for han[…] nicotine withdrawal.” April 9, 2019. Accessed August 28, 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.