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How Does Nicotine Affect The Body and Brain

How Does Nicotine Affect The Body and Brain

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical usually found in the tobacco plant. The addiction is physical, meaning habitual users come to crave the chemical, and also mental. This basically means that users consciously desire nicotine’s effects. Nicotine addiction is also behavioral. People become dependent on actions involved with using tobacco. They also become accustomed to using tobacco in certain situations, such as after meals or when under stress. Nicotine is primarily consumed by inhaling the smoke of tobacco cigarettes. Other ways to smoke tobacco include pipes and cigars. According to one study, smoking-related diseases are responsible for about 435,000 deaths per year in the United States. That’s about 1 in every 5 deaths in the United States. Stopping smoking, no matter how long you have smoked, can greatly benefit your health. Here is what you need to know about nicotine.

What Is Nicotine?

Nicotine is one of more than 4,000 chemicals found in the smoke from tobacco products. Moreover, it is the primary component that acts on the brain. Smokeless tobacco products also contain many toxins as well as high levels of nicotine. Nicotine is a naturally occurring, colorless liquid that turns brown when burned and takes on the odor of tobacco when exposed to air. There are many species of tobacco plants, the tabacum species serving as the major source of today's tobacco products.

Nicotine is absorbed through the skin and mucosal lining of the nose and mouth or in the lungs. Nicotine can reach peak levels in the bloodstream and brain rapidly. This usually depends on how it is taken. Cigarette smoking results in nicotine reaching the brain within just 10 seconds of inhalation. Cigar and pipe smokers, on the other hand, typically do not inhale the smoke, so nicotine is absorbed more slowly through the mucosal membranes of their mouths.

Symptoms of nicotine addiction

Signs of nicotine addiction include:

  • an inability to stop using tobacco products
  • withdrawal symptoms when nicotine use stops
  • a desire to keep smoking even when health complications arise
  • continued use of tobacco products even if it negatively impacts your life


Nicotine is highly addictive. People who regularly consume nicotine and then suddenly stop experience withdrawal symptoms, which may include:

  • cravings
  • a sense of emptiness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • moodiness
  • difficulty focusing or paying attention

Nicotine consumed from smoking tobacco is one of the hardest substances to quit. It is considered to be at least as hard as quitting heroin. One study showed that reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes also brings down their level of addictiveness. Another study found that nicotine consumption makes cocaine more addictive.

What Are the Medical Consequences?

The medical consequences of nicotine exposure result from effects of both the nicotine itself and how it is taken. Tobacco use accounts for one-third of all cancers. Foremost among the cancers caused by tobacco is lung cancer. It is the number one cancer killer of both men and women. In 90 percent of all lung cancer cases, there is a link to cigarette smoking. Nicotine exposure has also been shown to result in the following:

  • Lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Exacerbation of asthma symptoms
  • Associated with cancers of mouth, kidney, esophagus, pharynx, stomach, pancreas, cervix, ureter, and bladder
  • Risk of heart disease including stroke, vascular disease, heart attack, and aneurysm
  • Passive or secondary smoke increases risk for many diseases including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease in nonsmokers as well as increasing the severity of asthma in children
  • Female smokers tend to have earlier menopause

People who use nicotine products are at a greatly increased risk of respiratory diseases, cancers, stroke, and heart disease. Regardless of how long you’ve smoked, you can minimize your risk of health problems by stopping. Do not hesitate to try!