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Nicotine Abuse In Teens

teenager smoking

Adolescence is a time that young people experiment, test, and push boundaries, all as a means to individuate and help glean a clear sense of self. The pressures that teenagers endure, both internally and externally, during adolescence are intense, overwhelming and often unavoidable. Teenagers are highly impressionable and often exploited by pervasive advertising. Furthermore, American pop culture greatly influences the choices teenagers make, as teens look to the media for clarity regarding issues, such as what is considered fashionable, what is the ideal weight, what electronics to use, desirable/ accepted pastimes, how to manage stress, and more. 

Nicotine is considered to be one of the most addictive substances available. It is usually found in tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and e-cigarettes. Many stop teen smoking campaigns have successfully reduced the widespread use of traditional cigarettes within the teenage population. Unfortunately, the use of e-cigarettes by teens is on the rise, as e-cigarettes are erroneously advertised as an effective stress-reducing tactic. There are many different kinds of e-cigarettes, but the most commonly used e-cigarette is known as the Juul. The Juul is easily disguisable as it looks like a flash drive, and can be charged in a computer’s USB port. The Juul is also known for its minimal smoke production, compared to other e-cigarettes. A nicotine pod in the Juul has the same levels as a full pack of traditional cigarettes, and offers a variety of flavor options. 

How It Works

While nicotine abuse can be detrimental to a person of any age, research has indicated that teenagers have an increased sensitivity to its addictive quality due the fact that teenagers do not yet have fully developed brains. The way nicotine works is by stimulating the pleasure center of one’s brain. More specifically, when nicotine is absorbed and subsequently metabolized into one’s body, it produces a release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. The release of adrenaline often elicits feelings of pleasure and a surge of energy. When nicotine is introduced and consistently present in one’s system, the body reacts accordingly. A young person that habitually abuses nicotine will create synaptic connections and neural pathways to accommodate the presence of the substance. When the substance is not present in one’s system, his or her body will react accordingly (causing adverse withdrawal symptoms). It is important to note that a person’s brain is not fully developed until age twenty-five, at the earliest. For this reason, becoming addicted to nicotine as a teenager can have significant affects on a young person’s brain development. 


Every teenager is different and will react distinctly to nicotine. There are many potential side effects that can manifest as a result of nicotine abuse. Examples of possible side effects that can occur from nicotine abuse can include any combination of the following, as provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory impairment
  • Learning challenges
  • Attention issues
  • Lung irritation
  • Lung damage
  • Headaches
  • Jitters
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Cancer (including lung, stomach, throat, and/or bladder)
  • Heart disease
  • Lowers one’s life expectancy 
  • Gum disease
  • Yellowed teeth
  • Increased risk for diabetes
  • Eye disease
  • Ulcers 

The prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that influences rational thought, decision making, and impulse control) of a teenager is not yet fully developed, which means that a teen innately relies on his or her amygdala (the area of the brain that is responsible for one’s emotions and one’s fight-flight response). Hence, teenagers consistently behave and act from an emotional standpoint. Nicotine can further decrease a teen’s (already minimal) impulse control. Furthermore, the shifts that occur in a teenager’s brain from habitual nicotine abuse can increase his or her susceptibility for developing a substance use disorder later in life. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

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