Nicotine is the chemical found in tobacco products responsible for addictive quality. When tobacco products are used, the nicotine is quickly absorbed by your system and sent directly to your brain. Nicotine triggers emotional responses in your brain that cause feelings of happiness and satisfaction. It can also create a highly addictive nicotine addiction in teens. The signs and symptoms of addiction vary from person to person; however, addiction can happen quickly to anyone. Once addiction has taken hold, quitting can be very challenging.
What is Nicotine?
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in tobacco products. Data from recent studies indicate that more than 50 million Americans have an addiction to tobacco products of some type. Today’s typical tobacco products include chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars, and traditional cigarettes. Similar reports show nicotine addiction in teens is the most common addiction in the United States.
Nicotine is far more dangerous than many people realize. Using nicotine-containing products can quickly put your teen at risk for lifelong addictions to nicotine and tobacco products. Many of the health implications of nicotine use include medical and mental health complications to almost every body system. Typical examples include changes to the brin, hearing loss, eyesight changes, oral health problems, wrinkles, elevated blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, heart disease, fatty deposits in the blood, lung diseases, and cancers. Some data shows that as many as one-third of all cancer-related deaths are related to tobacco use.
What Makes Nicotine Addictive?
Using any product that contains nicotine can lead to nicotine addiction in teens. Regardless of how it is used, nicotine use changes how the brain works. This, in turn, leads to overwhelming cravings for more. Each product “delivers” nicotine to the brain in different ways. For example, cigarettes are designed to ensure nicotine reaches the brain within seconds. The speed at which the body and brain feel nicotine’s effects from smoking cigarettes makes quitting so difficult. Also, some products contain additives explicitly designed to make it easier for the body to absorb more significant amounts of nicotine.
Chemical Components of a Cigarette
Information provided by the American Lung Association indicates there are more than 600 known chemicals in a cigarette. When burned, many of these chemicals divide or alter their composition, multiplying the number of chemicals to more than 7000. Of those, at least 70 are known carcinogens or elements that cause cancer. Although many of these toxic chemicals are found in other products we use every day, those products contain warning labels that disclose the potential harms of ingesting or inhaling the product. A few examples of such chemicals include:
- Acetone—found in nail polish remover
- Acetic acid—an ingredient in hair dye
- Ammonia—a typical household cleaner
- Arsenic—used in rat poison
- Benzene—found in rubber cement and gasoline
- Butane—used in lighter fluid
- Cadmium—active component in battery acid
- Carbon monoxide—released in car exhaust fumes
- Formaldehyde—embalming fluid
- Hexamine—found in barbecue lighter fluid
- Lead—used in batteries
- Naphthalene—an ingredient in mothballs
- Methanol—a central component in rocket fuel
- Nicotine—used as an insecticide
- Tar—material for paving roads
- Toluene—used to manufacture paint
The E-Cigarette Myth
As the dangers of smoking have become more pronounced, many teens have turned to vaping as a perceived “safer” alternative to traditional cigarettes. According to the CDC, in 2018, nearly 21 percent of high school students (and 5% of middle school students) reported they were vaping. While the tobacco industry claims their advertising is not intentionally marketed toward youth, their products are designed to appeal to a younger generation. For example, many vaping devices are easily concealed in pockets or bags. Vape liquids are flavored with pleasant, enjoyable additives designed to taste like cake and cookies. Perhaps most appealing to teens (and adults alike) is that most vape products do not have the typical smell of tobacco smoke.
While effective at increasing the appeal of these products, e-cigarettes are no safer than traditional tobacco products. The liquids that fill the cartridges typically contain several toxic chemicals, including nicotine. Other chemicals found in e-cigarette liquids include propylene glycol (used in paint solvents and antifreeze), carcinogens (including acetaldehyde and formaldehyde), acrolein (found in weed killers), diethylene glycol (used to make antifreeze), cadmium, benzene (found in car exhaust), and heavy metals like tin, nickel, and lead.
Statistics on Teen Nicotine Use
Fortunately, adolescent smoking rates have been steadily declining in recent years; however, more and more teens are becoming addicted to nicotine each year. Studies show that vaping youth are more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes as they age. This can lead to cancer and other diseases commonly associated with smoking, such as heart disease and stroke. According to reports from the United States Surgeon General, up to 90% of those who smoke as adults started doing so by the age of eighteen. Each year over 480,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses.
Flavorings used in today’s tobacco products make them more appealing to youth and teens. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in 2021 showed more than 80% of high school students and 74.6% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the previous month used flavored products. Similarly, approximately 85% of high school students and 80% of middle school students who used e-cigarettes reported using flavored products.
In 2021, approximately 4% of middle school students and 13% of high school students reported using a tobacco product. Of those, 1.3% of middle schoolers and 4% of high schoolers report using more than one type of tobacco product. Statistics show youth who use more than one type of tobacco product are at a greater risk of developing nicotine dependence and continuing to use tobacco products into adulthood. Sadly, if the rate of cigarette use among youth continues at the same rate, more than 5 million Americans younger than eighteen will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. That accounts for approximately 1 of every 13 youth and teens under age 17 alive today.
Signs of Nicotine Addiction in Teens
If your teen has a nicotine addiction, they will experience several symptoms related to nicotine use. Visible signs of nicotine use vary depending on the person. However, some of the most common include cravings for nicotine products, anxiety and irritability, continuing to use despite the harmful effects of nicotine, stealing cigarettes or money to buy cigarettes, and other typical signs of substance addiction.
If asked, teens will likely tell you they could quit at any time, but unfortunately, addiction may have taken hold by then. Studies have shown that youth can become addicted to nicotine after as few as three cigarettes. When it comes to vaping, addiction can occur even quicker. This is because vaping can potentially deliver even more nicotine than smoking traditional cigarettes. Vape juice is available on the market with multiple levels of nicotine.
When a teen is addicted to nicotine and tries to quit, they are likely to experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Smoking or using tobacco products for an extended time is unnecessary to experience withdrawal when trying to quit. For some, these symptoms can occur after using nicotine for a very short time. Unfortunately, many adolescents and teens are unfamiliar with the dangers of smoking or e-cigarettes.
Typical examples of withdrawal symptoms teens may experience when trying to quit nicotine include weight gain, depression, anxiety, irritability, headaches, problems sleeping, sweating, problems with concentration, and nicotine cravings.
Helping your Teen Quit Nicotine
Quitting smoking and the associated nicotine withdrawal symptoms can be a challenging experience, no matter your age. Recently, the federal government passed a law making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase tobacco products. This includes vape products, traditional tobacco products, smokeless tobacco products, and loose tobacco. Unfortunately, this will pose a challenge for the millions of people under 21 who are addicted to nicotine and now have to quit or break the law to satisfy their cravings.
Many different products are on the market to help the smoking cessation process. Unfortunately, as many as 70% of those who try to quit will fail more than once. If your teen has tried traditional over-the-counter methods and they have not worked, there are residential programs that could be beneficial. At a teen-focused treatment program like Beachside, we will help your teen learn more about addictive behaviors and why addiction’s physical and psychological challenges make quitting so complex.
Residential addiction treatment programs offer access to individual and group counseling opportunities and medical supervision to help your teen work through withdrawal. Residential settings also encourage education, wellness coaching, and stress management to help with both the process of quitting and the subsequent challenges associated with the recovery and avoiding relapse. At Beachside, team members are available around the clock, so if your teen requires assistance, someone will be there for them no matter the time of day or night.
If your teen has tried to quit smoking and failed or is ready to quit for the first time, consider seeking help at a professional treatment program like ours at Beachside. Our experienced, compassionate treatment providers have years of combined experience working with teens. We understand the unique nature of helping youth overcome addiction and develop the tools they need to manage relapse triggers throughout their lives. Regardless of age, quitting nicotine is challenging, and the cravings that accompany withdrawal can be unpleasant. Our medical and mental health providers are here to help your teen manage all the challenges of quitting nicotine. To learn more about our teen-focused treatment program and how we can help your teen and family overcome the challenges of nicotine addiction in teens, contact us today for more information or to schedule a tour.