Is smoking really an addiction?


Nicotine is addictive. It is the component of cigarettes, cigars and/or chew that gives people cravings and keeps them using those substances

Tobacco contains nicotine. Nicotine activates the "reward system" in your brain. Constant stimulation of the reward system eventually leads to lasting changes in your brain cells' chemistry. This leads to addiction.

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco all contain a substance called nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive. Stopping smoking can lead to nicotine withdrawal, making it very difficult to quit smoking.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)
Smoking is a real addiction and the culprit is nicotine. Nicotine is the chemical that has a hold on you. Nicotine is the real monkey on your back. Nicotine can be as addictive as alcohol, cocaine and morphine. They all make a beeline to reward pathways centers in the brain, the part of the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure. One drag can send nicotine to the brain within 10 seconds. The cells become accustomed to getting their nicotine fix every few hours. When it wears off and the body is deprived of nicotine, you begin to go through withdrawal.

We're a society that doesn't like quitters—not in sports, not in school, not in buffalo wing eating contests. So it's against our human nature to give up something that we've started—even cigarettes.

One of the toughest parts about quitting smoking is that they're both physiologically addictive and psychologically addictive.

From the physiological end, it seems that dopamine—a naturally occurring substance in your body that dulls pain and causes pleasure—is actually triggered when you're smoking. When you smoke, you get used to the elevated dopamine levels, so when you don't smoke, you crave the cigarette with no explanation as to why, almost like the way a pregnant woman craves chocolate-chip relish. Luckily, those dopamine levels don't stay elevated all the time, and if you can quit, you can switch your chemicals back to normal levels.

Psychologically, smoking becomes a behavioral addiction—you have a cigarette with a beer, after dinner, after sex. And you get used to the feeling of picking something up and putting it in your mouth.

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

More About this Book

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger

Between your full-length mirror and high-school biology class, you probably think you know a lot about the human body. While it's true that we live in an age when we're as obsessed with our bodies as...
Anthony Beck
Addiction Medicine Specialist

Yes, smoking is a severe addiction. Nicotine is a known carcinogen, so it causes cancer. Even knowing that, people still continue to smoke despite sometimes catastrophic health consequences.

Continue Learning about Quit Smoking

Quit Smoking

Quit Smoking

Smoking tobacco products can lead to severe health problems and even death. While quitting smoking can be very difficult for some smokers, there are smoking cessation programs and medications that can help smokers quit. There are ...

many lifelong benefits of doing so, like increased lung function and decreased risk of heart disease and cancer. Understanding the importance of quitting smoking and all options available to help stop smoking is key to long-term success.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.