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Nicotine on Campus: Why It’s Addictive

By Christopher Pouch

Published October 8, 2019

Dr. M. Dolores Cimini, director of UAlbany’s Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research speaks to a class on campus. (Christopher Pouch / ASP)

Nicotine represents the most common addiction in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). When used via tobacco, nicotine is the country’s leading cause of preventable disease and death.

About seven percent of undergraduate students smoke cigarettes, according to a fall 2018 University at Albany survey, while just over fifteen percent use E-Cigarettes at UAlbany.

Not all E-Cigarette users want nicotine. There is no data for UAlbany, but a survey from NIDA found that around 20 percent of teenagers use only flavoring in their vaping devices.

According to the NIDA, most people who smoke or use E-Cigarettes regularly develop an addiction.

“When a substance causes a dopamine response, it makes you want to go back for more,” says Dr. M. Dolores Cimini, director of UAlbany’s Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research.

But Nicotine differs from other drugs in that it is a relatively limited pleasure response.

While some drugs are known to cause users to experience a strong euphoric state, nicotine is generally responsible for only a brief initial release of endorphins.

“The measure of a drug’s addictiveness is not how much pleasure it causes but how reinforcing it is—that is, how much it leads people to keep using it,” according to NIDA.

The effects of nicotine are not limited to just reinforcing the act of smoking.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say nicotine can actually enhance everyday activities, making them more enjoyable.

“Preclinical research documents say that, aside from the primary and secondary reinforcing effects of nicotine intake itself, nicotine also acutely enhances the reinforcing efficacy of non-drug reinforcers,” the University of Pittsburgh report says.

As a result, when smokers or E-Cigarette users make efforts to quit, they’re not just dealing with the urge for nicotine, they also get less pleasure from other unrelated activities.

UAlbany has resources available for students and staff who find themselves in this position.

The Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research has counseling meetings and educational programs available upon request, and can help with issues related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

For more information, students can go to


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