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Nicotine addiction explained

There's a lot more to smoking than old habits. In fact, nicotine is an addictive substance that causes the urge to smoke. But what's going on behind the scenes?

Am I addicted to nicotine?

Usually if you smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, or have a cigarette in the first half hour after waking up, you have a nicotine addiction that is significant enough to give you some real trouble when quitting. 

Our Quit Plan includes a nicotine addiction test. Give it a try. 

If you are addicted to nicotine, you'll get nicotine withdrawal when you quit. Withdrawal symptoms start within hours of your last cigarette, and can include strong cravings, irritability, poor concentration and sleeplessness.

How does nicotine addiction work?

If you're a smoker, your brain is filled with nicotine receptors. These receptors eagerly await incoming nicotine. Think of nicotine as a key, and receptors as little locks. When the nicotine unlocks the nicotine receptors, a feel-good chemical called dopamine is released, giving you a little “hit” or “buzz”. This doesn’t last long. The nicotine soon fades making the receptor eager for more. Cue nicotine withdrawal and cigarette cravings!

Two proven quitting methods really work on the nicotine addiction. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and prescribed stop smoking tablets.

What is nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) ?

  • NRT provides you with a little bit of nicotine, which locks on to some (but not all) of your nicotine receptors. To put it simply, NRT takes the edge off cravings. 
  • NRT such as mouth spray, gum, lozenges and inhalator, give a fast burst of nicotine that can help get past short, strong cravings. Nicotine patches provide a slow, steady level of nicotine over a long period.
  • Most people who smoke need combination therapy: patches PLUS a fast-acting form of NRT.
  • NRT patches, gum and lozenges are available for a discounted price with a prescription from your GP
  • If you add Quitline to these methods it boosts your chances of quitting. Request a Quitline callback.

How do nicotine replacement products work?

What about prescribed stop smoking tablets?

If you visit your GP you can get a prescription for prescribed stop smoking tablets. These tablets can help to reduce nicotine withdrawal such as cravings, irritability and sleeplessness. These tablets are available for a discounted price with a PBS prescription from your GP.

Prescribed stop smoking tablets will not stop all cravings entirely but they will work on nicotine addiction. This makes it easier for you to focus on habits and routines; stress and smoking; and social situations and alcohol

To boost your chances of quitting for good , use prescribed stop smoking tablets with QuitlineRequest a Quitline callback.


Last updated October 2021.

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