Why is vaping addictive?

Vaping might feel like the norm right now. You’ve likely seen people vaping at parties, maybe sneakily at school or uni, or even when they’re just walking around town. 

But why has it become so popular? And is it really bad for you? Here’s what you need to know about what makes vaping addictive, how it affects your wellbeing and whether you should quit. 

A young person vaping at home.

This can help if:

  • you vape, or you’re thinking about vaping

  • you want to know what’s contained in a vape

  • you’re trying to quit vaping

  • you’re wondering if vaping is bad for you, or you want to learn more about the effects of vaping.

Why do people vape?

There are plenty of reasons why someone might choose to vape. These are some of the common ones:

  • It’s popular in their friend group and they want to fit in.

  • They’re curious and want to try something new.

  • They think it makes people look cool.

  • Other people at home smoke or vape. Or they’re doing it to rebel against the adults in their life.

  • It’s an attempt to quit or reduce their cigarette smoking.

  • They use it as a stimming action.

  • They use it to relieve stress.

  • Vapes are easy to access.

Why is vaping addictive?

Nicotine, which comes from the tobacco plant, is highly addictive. Although vapes don’t contain tobacco, nicotine can be added to the vape liquid, which makes it easy to get hooked on vaping.

Depending on its size, the amount of nicotine in a single vape can be the equivalent to around 20 to 50 cigarettes or more. That’s the same amount of at least one pack of cigarettes.

When you vape, the nicotine triggers the parts of your brain that make you feel happy and satisfied. So, you might vape again because you enjoyed the experience.

But when you haven’t had nicotine in a while, you start to experience vape withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms aren’t pleasant and can make you want to vape again as a way to relieve the discomfort. The withdrawal symptoms can include feeling:

  • irritable or restless

  • anxious or sad

  • tired, or unable to sleep

  • unable to concentrate

  • hungry.

This creates a cycle because the more you vape, the more you’ll crave it to feel good. If you want to understand more about what nicotine is and its effects, check out the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

It’s now illegal to buy or use nicotine vapes anywhere in Australia without a doctor’s prescription. But even if you’re trying to choose ‘healthier’ vaping options by using nicotine-free vapes, there’s actually no way to know whether your vape contains nicotine unless you have it tested in a lab. 

Studies have shown that a lot of ‘nicotine-free vapes’ still contain nicotine, so there’s always the risk that you’ll become addicted even if you’ve tried to avoid the drug.

Vaping can also become addictive if there are certain triggers that make you automatically reach for a vape. It might be a part of your daily routine, such as vaping after you eat lunch or before you go home from uni or work. When it’s such a regular part of your day, it can be hard to break the impulse to vape.

You might even feel like it’s an ingrained part of your social life. If your friends vape, then it’s normal to want to keep vaping as a way to fit in. If a group of you are hanging out and a vape is passed around, it might feel like you’re expected to vape, too. 

Is vaping bad for you? 

Vaping might feel good in the moment. At first, you might enjoy the taste, and feel buzzed or relaxed, but it can lead to side effects over time.

Some of the short-term effects of vaping include:

  • feeling stressed or agitated

  • feeling distracted and unable to focus

  • bad moods

  • poor memory

  • coughing or wheezing 

  • irritated mouth or throat

  • headaches

  • nausea or vomiting 

  • chest pain

  • pounding heart.

Long-term effects of vaping include:

Since vapes are fairly new, research into their side effects is still in the early stages. This means that, as well as the effects we already know, there could be other long-term impacts that haven’t been detected yet.

What about nicotine-free vapes?

Again, there’s no way to know for sure if your vape is actually free of nicotine. But even if there is no nicotine, there are other parts of a vape that can be bad for you.

Vapes contain three key parts: a battery to power it, a cartridge with liquid flavouring, and a metal coil to heat it up and turn the liquid to vapour. Here are some reasons why these can be bad for you:

  • Some flavours can also cause lung irritation and increase your risk of lung infections. This is why certain flavours are banned by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the official health regulator in Australia. Check out the TGA website for  the new rules about which flavours are allowed.

  • Some liquids contain the same harsh chemicals as found in cleaning products, nail polish remover, weed killer and bug spray.

  • The coil can start to deteriorate if it’s used for longer than the manufacturer planned, like when a disposable vape is being reused. This means there’s a risk of inhaling the metal.

Is vaping better than smoking?

You might have heard that vaping is at least safer than smoking. It might even feel less risky, since flavoured vapes taste nice and don’t produce smoke or the same strong smell as cigarettes. But the two can’t really be compared, in terms of whether one is better than the other, since they both have their own particular harmful effects.

Some people believe that smoking is more dangerous because cigarettes contain toxic chemicals that can cause cancer. But vapes can also contain chemicals that are linked to cancer. Besides, research shows that people who vape are more likely to take up smoking in the future.

Realistically speaking, both smoking and vaping are bad for your wellbeing. Neither of them is safe. The least risky approach would be to not use vapes or cigarettes at all.

Should I quit vaping?

Since vaping can have a bunch of effects on your physical and mental wellbeing, unless you’ve been prescribed a vape by your doctor, the best thing to do is to quit vaping. This might seem impossible because vaping may be a big part of hanging out socially with your friends. In fact, it may even seem normal to vape because so many people do it.

Writing a list of pros and cons of vaping can help give you a clearer idea of why quitting might be worthwhile. Aside from the effects it can have on your wellbeing, think about whether vaping affects other parts of your life. For example:

  • If you feel stressed or unable to focus, does this impact your studies or your work?

  • Do any of the physical effects of vaping get in the way of you enjoying your hobbies?

  • Does vaping impact your financial situation?

  • How does vaping play into your friendships and other relationships? How would these change if you stopped vaping?

Quitting isn’t always easy. You’ll deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which make it hard to stay away from vapes. But being prepared, with the right strategies and people to support you, can make the process easier.  

Smokefree Teen has resources on how you can understand your triggers, deal with your cravings and stay committed to quitting. You can also find some ideas for replacing the physical habit of vaping at this resource.

And the good news is, if you stop vaping, the withdrawal symptoms will eventually fade away and the other negative side effects of vaping will also reduce or disappear over time.

  • Learn more about vaping addiction at Smokefree Teen.

  • Find out what you can do if you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed.

  • Share your thoughts or get support from a counsellor at Quitline.


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