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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?

Before you quit, it’s important to understand why you smoke.


Here we’ll talk about nicotine addiction, but it’s also important to consider your triggers if you want to quit for good. Quitline can help you break smoking-related triggers (and also help with nicotine addiction by offering information on the products below).  

How addicted to nicotine you are will determine the best methods to deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings. If you want to know how strong your nicotine addiction is, go to our build a plan tool. 

If you do have a nicotine addiction, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products or quitting medications (such as Champix/varenicline) can help. 

NRT products and quitting medications can help you manage nicotine withdrawal such as anxiety, irritability, strong cravings and sleeplessness. Quitline can help you break smoking-related habits (and also help you choose a quitting product). 

How does nicotine give you a craving?

If you’ve been 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 receptor, 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 a cigarette craving!

What are nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products?

NRT products provide you with a little bit of nicotine, which locks onto some (but not all) of your nicotine receptors. To put it simply, NRT products take the edge off cravings. 

Nicotine replacement products such as gum, lozenges, mouth spray and Inhalator, give a fast burst of nicotine that can help get past short, strong cravings. Patches provide a slow, steady level of nicotine over a long period. 

The best chance of success is to use Quitline with what’s called combination therapy: patches PLUS a fast-acting form of NRT. Read more about combination therapy.

How do nicotine replacement products work?

How can quitting medications help?

Both Champix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) are prescription medications. They work in different ways but are both designed to help with the nicotine addiction. 

Both are taken in tablet form. Champix is a 12-week course and Zyban is a 9-week course. Both products lessen nicotine withdrawal symptoms and are proven to be effective, particularly when used with Quitline advice. 

Quitting medications can have possible side-effects: talk to your GP if you have concerns. Read more about Champix (varenicline) or Zyban (bupropion).

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