Can you get addicted to hookah?

Yes, you can get addicted to the drug nicotine by smoking hookah. Hookah smoking is NOT a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. We review hookah addiction and other health risks here.

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Yes, smoking hookah can get you hooked on nicotine. And although it feels like a clean smoke, hookah is not better for you than smoking cigarettes. We review the health risks of hookah and the signs of hookah addiction here.

What’s dangerous about hookah?

Smoke from waterpipes contains significant amounts of nicotine, tar and heavy metals. In fact, a 60 minute hookah session will expose you to 100-200 times the volume of smoke inhaled from a single cigarette. In addition, smoking tobacco through water does not filter out cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens) such as carbon monoxide. Filtered tobacco smoke that you pull through a hookah can damage the lungs and heart as much as cigarette smoke.

Hookah and nicotine

Nicotine is one of the most addictive chemicals out there. And it is 100% present during a hookah session. Hookah smokers actually inhale more nicotine than do cigarette smokers because of the massive volume of smoke they inhale. Nicotine increases levels of dopamine in the reward circuits of the brain. This reaction is similar to a feeling of euphoria or getting high and is thought to underlie the pleasurable sensations experienced by many smokers. For many tobacco users, continued nicotine exposure results in chemical changes in the brain and can result in addiction.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually begin within a few hours after you last use tobacco, peak within the first few days of smoking cessation and usually subside within a few weeks. For some people, however, symptoms of withdrawal may persist for months. Symptoms of withdrawal from the nicotine contained in hookah include:

  • anxiety
  • attention deficits
  • craving
  • depression
  • increased appetite
  • irritability
  • impaired cognitive skills
  • sleep disturbances

Signs of hookah addiction

Smoking tobacco produces a rapid distribution of nicotine in the brain, with drug levels peaking within 10 seconds of inhalation. However, the acute effects of nicotine dissipate quickly, as do the associated feelings of reward. This cycle of up-and-down causes a tobacco smoker to continue dosing to maintain the pleasurable effects and prevent withdrawal and cravings and is the basis for hookah addiction. But hookah addiction is characterized by a number of factors, including compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative health consequences. In other words, you may be addicted to hookah if you:

  1. You spend significant time, energy or money on hookah sessions or hookah related activities
  2. You experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking
  3. You continue to smoke from a hookah despite negative consequences to your health, work, social or family obligations
  4. You think obsessively about hookah

Questions about hookah addiction

Hookah has been popular in Mediterranean and Eastern cultures for many thousands of years. But the popularity of hookah is rather new in the West. If you have questions about hookah use, abuse or even just want to share your story … please leave us a comment. We respond to all comments personally and have an active community who discusses issues in addiction. We would LOVE to hear from you!

Reference sources: CDC Smoking & Tobacco Use info on Hookah
NIDA Research Report Series: Is Nicotine Addictive?
The effects of waterpipe tobacco smoking on health outcomes: a systematic review : International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume39, Issue3, Pp. 834-857.
American Lung Association Update on Tobacco Waterpipe Use
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I’m addicted to hookah and I hate it. I smoke 3-4 bowls A DAY. It’s ruined my relationships and I do have a problem. I want to quit so bad.

    1. Hi No Name. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best rehab for you.

  2. I agree with the excerpt about smoking hookah meaning inhaling 200x more smoke than smoking a traditional cigarette. I know a lot of people who smoke hookah occasionally and they swear that it’s better than cigarettes.

  3. Baaicly my brother has a shisha pen in his room and hes 14 and on the little flavoured bottles it says u have to be 18. Is it bad for him . Hes not out the house enough for me to sneek back in and look at the ingrediants to see if it is a non nicetine or not. I need advice. Im 11 btw . Also iv research shisha pens and isk what to expect of my brother anymore

  4. @jan Spurlock you might be overreacting a little bit as most commonly used coals are natural and made of compressed coconut shells. I light coals in my house every day, they aren’t killing me and they aren’t giving you beast cancer. , first of all this article uses the term “smoke” to refer to the vapor that hookahs produce, which is free of carcinogens produced by combustion. If a hookah burns tobacco it hurts and you can’t smoke it. Also, you mentioned that the volume of smoke produced makes a hookah akin to smoking 18 cigarettes however disregarding the fact that narghiles are typically shared with others, once again hookah vapor is not equivalent to cigarette smoke. There are risks involved with smoking hookahs but they are not some new drug craze and there’s no reason to be disappointed I someone for trying one. Hookahs are very cultural and ceremonial by nature.

  5. I think I am getting addicted to hooka. We have it once or twice a week but now I want it daily. Please help me to leave it.

  6. I bought a cheaper, small hookah set up about 4 months ago. Since then, I have spent an upwards of 350+ on shisha and coals. I smoke 2-3 bowls a day and go through 200grams of shisha a week. I don’t feel addicted. I have extra revenue and I spend some of it on shisha. However, I think I am. I’m all out of shisha. And I’m telling my friends that I need to stop. I’ll only smoke in social settings and no longer on a daily basis. I never knew how bad it was for my heart and lungs.

  7. Hi Julie. Smoking is never really OK, in terms of physical health. But will the tobacco or nicotine interact with the other drugs? Unlikely, but to be sure call a pharmacy and speak with the pharmacist on call. Or call your son’s prescribing doctor for more information.

  8. my son is smoking a hookah. he is also taking Prozac for depression, and Focalin XR for ADHD, and suffers from migraines (all before smoking). Is smoking OK with these other drugs and his migraines?

  9. Hi Headaches vs Hookah. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I would suggest that you seek an expert opinion about the headaches, nonetheless. Have you been referred to a pain specialist about the headaches? There are different ways, including lifestyle changes, to treat persistent or chronic migraines. I’d suggest that you look into it and/or seek information online about headache treatment before continuing to smoke treated tobacco as headache relief. More here:

  10. I’ve got a bit of an odd story, compared to the ones up here. I recently tried hookah because I’ve had debilitating migraines for years and nothing has helped except restricting myself to not going outside during daylight hours; eating nothing containing added salt, sugar, or fat; and keeping every electronic device turned off at all times in combination and even that didn’t do more than take the edge off. Worse, it meant I couldn’t work or go to school.

    So a few weeks ago I cracked and smoked hookah with some friends. My headache was completely gone within 10 minutes. I hadn’t been pain free in at least three years, but this had it gone in record breaking time. I’m smoking every Saturday now and it’s keeping my pain manageable enough I can work full-time. I’m still in pain, but it’s tolerable, now.

    However, the health risks still scare me. I don’t want to have to worry about the cancers and heart problems, but this is the only thing I’ve ever found that makes me a functional being.

    I’d never done drugs before this, either, except the levels of advil and aleve recommended by a doctor, but those didn’t help any so I quit them.

  11. Dear Everyone, Hookah is not heroin so let’s stop acting like we all need to go to rehab because of it. it’s simply a social thing, and I’m pretty sure it would be a difficult addiction to uphold since you have to go through a few steps to set up the hookah pipe. if anything it will just get people to smoke cigarettes, but that’s their choice.

  12. Hi Arabian guy. This is an excellent question. You’ll really need to know yourself, and set your own limits when you try any kind of substance. While smoking hookah can cause harm to you over time, one time use is unlikely to produce anything other than discomfort, coughing, and possible lightheadedness. Continue your research and asking questions, and then make an informed decision for yourself.

  13. hello every one , my question is recently i been waching lots of hokah videos and i really want to tray it once is there any harm

  14. Hi Ash. Well, it’s like anything. Why start something that you know it’s better that you stop? The compulsion to smoke is what you need to overcome. Because a little at a time, hookah can creep back in on your life. I went through this with coffee…I quit, started again (slowly) and then I was back to a 3 cup a day habit 3 months later. People say the same thing about cigarettes.

    So try it and see if you can control yourself. If you cannot, then you know that you are a full blown hookah addict.

    Does that help?

  15. Hey..
    This is ash from Bangalore..
    And I’ve been taking hookah from past three years.. At first I was addicted., or I pushed myself into the concept of loving hookah., I’m not sure what exactly but I clearly spent three hours a day over four months.. And the next two years I was entirely sober because I was living in hostel.. I came back last month and took hookah for a long time two days.. Anyways., I just don’t find enough reasons to give up on hookah yet.. Why can’t I do it once in a while.? What harm could that do.? Because now I’m big enough and I trust myself not to get addicted..

  16. Hi No name. Well, just because your brother is smoking hookah doesn’t mean that he’s addicted yet. If you are concerned for his welfare, I’d suggest that you talk with him about your thoughts and see if you might be able to influence him by sharing your knowledge with him. IF he can set reasonable limits for hookah consumption and live without it, all the better.

    Good luck!

  17. My brother recently tried hookah, so i decided to research it… all i can say is I am VERY disappointed in him

  18. I live and work in the “Bermuda Triangle” in Southern California. North Hollywood and Burbank are quickly becoming the “Hooka Hotbeds” for Middle Easterners who have concealed resentment toward the U.S. Government and Capitalism.
    Most people underestimate the elemental as well as environmental effects of this so called Luxury. This is the keyword for Middle Eastern Psychology. Blatant displays of entitlement are characterized by cell phone hacking on the premises, signal stalking, and the eventual theft and recovery of a victim’s cell phone for not only the contacts, but now the PIN numbers and account codes can be recovered by CLONING and DECODING the audible KEYTONES on your numerical keypad.
    If you leave your 911 (to others) enabled…or leave your bluetooth (discoverable) enabled, leave your cell phone on a counter near a computer or ON A TABLE @ one of these or other restaurants and COFFEE SHOPS…your phone may not be around to wake you up much longer.
    And not to mention the effects of the HOOKAH charcoal chunks that these restaurants refuse to burn ALL the WAY to ashes for trash disposal…as soon as these people come in to start flooding the chunks down our sewage drain, the chemical bi-products begin to covalently BOND with other waste such as mold and PIPE drain heavy metal…
    I sit at my computer and am not able to finish my work because I have either a migraine or wavy vision and burning eyes. I AM HAVING BREAST PAINS as well and rushed in for my mammogram after a huge mess was made when the COOKING TROTH was overturned by heavy rain and charcoal was dispersed everywhere on the patio of our school.
    The city of Burbank has approved TWO-not just ONE restaurant and they are on each side of us.
    I am calling Air Quality Control, the Tobacco and Firearms Agency, and the EPA.
    This is disgraceful; however…there is so little known published information about this process, and California has a LIVE and LET LIVE policy.
    The city said it was a CIVIL MATTER. At first I disagreed, but now, I think they may be right on the money…however, it is NOT the restaurants that need to be sued…
    Gosh ya’ll…I guess that’s “life in the big city…” Stay tuned…

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