Nicotine Dependence


Nicotine dependence occurs when you need nicotine and can’t stop using it. Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that gets you hooked and makes it very hard to quit. Nicotine produces pleasing effects in your brain, but it’s only temporary. That’s when you need to smoke another cigarette.

The more you smoke, the more nicotine you need to feel good. When you try to stop, you experience unpleasant mental and physical changes. These are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

Signs that you may be addicted include:

  • You can’t stop smoking. You’ve made one or more serious, but unsuccessful, attempts to stop.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop. Your attempts at stopping have caused physical and mood-related symptoms, such as strong cravings, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, frustration, anger, increased hunger, insomnia
  • You keep smoking despite health problems. Even though you’ve developed health problems with your lungs or your heart, you haven’t been able to stop.
  • You gave up social activities. You may stop going to smoke-free restaurants or stop socializing with family or friends because you can’t smoke in these situations.

Common situations that trigger the urge to smoke include:

  • Drinking coffee or taking breaks at work
  • Talking on the phone
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Driving your car
  • Spending time with friends

To overcome your nicotine dependence, you need to become aware of your triggers and make a plan for dealing with them.

Risk factors

Anyone who smokes or uses other forms of tobacco is at risk of becoming dependent. Factors that influence who will use tobacco include:

  • Age. The younger you are when you begin smoking, the greater the chance that you’ll become addicted.
  • Genetics. The likelihood that you will start smoking and keep smoking may be partly inherited.
  • Parents and peers. Children who grow up with parents who smoke are more likely to become smokers. Children with friends who smoke are also more likely to try it.
  • Depression or other mental illness. People who have depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or other forms of mental illness are more likely to be smokers.
  • Substance use. People who abuse alcohol and illegal drugs are more likely to be smokers.


But you may not realize just how many different health problems smoking causes:

  • Lung cancer and lung disease.
  • Heart and circulatory system problems.
  • Diabetes.
  • Eye problems.
  • Complications during pregnancy.
  • Cold, flu and other illnesses.
  • Tooth and gum disease.


  • The best way to prevent nicotine dependence is to not use tobacco in the first place.
  • The best way to keep children from smoking is to not smoke yourself. 


Like most smokers, you’ve probably made at least one serious attempt to stop. But it’s rare to stop smoking on your first attempt — especially if you try to do it without help. You’re much more likely to be able to stop smoking if you use medications and counseling, which have both been proved effective, especially in combination.


There are two approved quit-smoking medications that don’t contain nicotine, and both are available only by prescription. Any of these products can help reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms — making it more likely that you’ll stop smoking for good.


Medications help you cope by reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while behavioral treatments help you develop the skills you need to give up tobacco for good. The more time you spend with a counselor, the better your treatment results will be.

Methods to avoid

It’s not a good idea to substitute another type of tobacco use for smoking. Tobacco in any form is not safe. Steer clear of these products:

  • Dissolvable tobacco products
  • Smokeless tobacco
  • Nicotine lollipops and balms
  • Cigars and pipes
  • Hookahs



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