You might worry about whether it’s dangerous to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like the patches or gum. Your questions answered:
1. How does NRT work?
As you probably know, cigarettes are highly addictive. It’s because they contain a chemical called nicotine. When you puff on a cigarette, it takes just seconds for nicotine to move from the lungs to the brain.
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!
NRT products provide you with a little bit of nicotine, which locks on to some (but not all) of your nicotine receptors. To put this simply, NRT products take the edge off the cravings.
Nicotine patches provide a slow, steady level of nicotine over a long period.
The best chance of success is to use what’s called combination therapy: patches plus a fast-acting NRT product like mouth spray, lozenge or gum. Adding Quitline to that mix will give you an even better chance of success. Request a Quitline callback.
2. Can I get addicted to NRT products themselves?
It is unlikely that you will become addicted to NRT because the amount of nicotine in them is low. Also, compared to a cigarette, it takes longer for nicotine to get to the brain and to give you a nicotine hit.
A small number of people have told us they’ve become addicted to nicotine mouth spray, lozenge or gum. You might like to see this as “clean nicotine", free from the thousands of damaging chemicals in cigarettes. In short, using NRT is much better than smoking. It’s also much easier to quit NRT compared to a cigarette.
3. Are NRT products dangerous?
NRT products have to pass strict safety standards set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) before they can be sold in Australia. NRT has been used safely around the world for many years.
4. What about side effects?
It’s actually quite rare to get side effects if you use NRT as directed. Some NRT can be trickier to use than others.
Also, quitting smoking is hard. The resulting sensations and nicotine withdrawal can be uncomfortable. Sometimes these discomforts are mistaken for side effects e.g. sleeping problems are sometimes mistakenly linked to NRT when they’re actually caused by withdrawal, or the fact that nicotine reduces caffeine absorption. It's a good idea to cut down on drinks with caffeine when you quit (like coffee, tea and cola).
5. What happens if I have a smoke while I’m wearing a patch?
You don’t need to take the patch off if you have a cigarette. It’s actually best to leave it on. Slip-ups – a puff or a cigarette – during a quit attempt are common. Treat it as an opportunity to understand what’s happened.
If you have returned to your previous smoking, put the patches away until you’re ready to try quitting again.
If you have more questions, call Quitline
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