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Is Vaping Addictive?

Teen girls vaping outside near woods  

Over the past year, the vaping trend has become increasingly popular, and this is especially true among teens. Vaping is the number one way that teens take nicotine. Teens are even more likely than adults to be exposed to nicotine from vaping. By the time they have reached the 12th grade, more than 37% of teens will have vaped over the past year. As vaping has become more common, concerns about safety and addiction have increased. This is for good reason, as some substances used in vape pens can be addictive.

What’s in a Vape Pen?

A vape pen refers to a battery-powered device used to inhale heated liquid. First, a liquid must be put into the device. This liquid consists of a chemical base, often one of two substances: propylene glycol, or glycerol (also known as glycerin). Manufacturers will add other substances on top of the chemical base. Common ones include:

  • Nicotine, which was vaped by nearly 30% of 12th graders over the past year
  • Flavoring, which was vaped by over 25% of 12th graders over the past year
  • Marijuana or hash oil, which was vaped by about 13% of 12th graders over the past year

Finally, the device is turned on. At this point, the device heats the liquid enough so that it becomes a vapor. The vapor is then inhaled.

In addition to the chemical base and the substance to be inhaled, vaping exposes people to other hidden ingredients. These agents are often harmful additives in the vaping liquid. Some of them can cause serious lung damage. These chemicals can include:

  • Extra-small particles which land in the lungs
  • Diacetyl, which is linked to severe lung disease
  • Volatile chemicals
  • Carcinogens
  • Heavy metals such as lead, nickel and tin

Risk of Addiction from Vaping

Vaping can put people at risk of addiction. This is most likely when they are vaping an addictive substance like nicotine. Further, vaping may increase the risk of other addictions later in life. This includes cigarette smoking, especially if a person is vaping nicotine. If a person knows the risks of addiction from vaping and is still hesitant to quit, their vaping may already be turning into an addiction.

Physical vs Psychological Addiction

Some people divide addiction into different categories, which are physical and psychological addiction. In general, physical addiction occurs when the body is physically dependent on a substance. With physical addiction, the chemicals in the brain have adapted to the substance and expect it to be present. When the substance is not present, physical signs of withdrawal can occur. Nicotine is an example of a vaped substance that causes physical dependence. Although there is a debate about whether marijuana can cause physical dependence, some doctors believe it can.

In contrast, psychological addiction occurs when someone’s emotions change when they can no longer take a substance. They may feel anxious or have difficulty taking their minds off the substance. Psychological addiction can occur when there is no chemical present that has made changes to the brain but substance use has become a habit. An example of a vaped substance that may cause psychological addiction is flavoring.

What to Do if Your Teen Is Vaping

If your teen is vaping, it is very important to talk to them and encourage them to stop. Besides the danger of addiction with vaping, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that serious lung damage and death can occur from vaping as well. Even if your teen doesn’t think they can become addicted to vaping, the prospect of permanent lung damage or death may help to persuade them.

Further, throughout 2019, many states have made vaping illegal for teens and many stores have stopped selling vaping equipment. You can read about these events with your teen and discuss them, in addition to discussing addiction, lung damage, and death. If you fear that your teen is vaping or may even be addicted, contact Next Generation Village today to get help for your teen.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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