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Nicotine replacement therapy: Questions answered

When you've decided to quit, it can be quite overwhelming. There's a lot of options and methods out there, how do you decide what's best for you? And what to do all the terms and acronyms mean? We're here to clear it up for you.

Some people worry about whether it’s dangerous to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like the patches, gum, lozenges, inhalator or mouth spray. Below is a response to common questions

1) How does nicotine replacement therapy 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 is simply, NRT products take the edge of the cravings. 

Nicotine replacement products such as gum, lozenges, spray 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. 

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

2)  Can I get addicted to the nicotine replacement products themselves? 

It is unlikely that you will become addicted to NRT products 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 or buzz. 

A small number of people have told us they’ve become addicted to nicotine spray or gum. You might like to see this as “clean nicotine”, free from the thousands of damaging chemicals in cigarettes. In short, using an NRT product is much better than smoking. It’s also much easier to quit an NRT product.

3) Are nicotine replacement products dangerous?

NRT products have to pass strict safety standards set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (or TGA) before they can be sold in Australia. NRT products have 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 an NRT product as directed. Some of the NRT products can be trickier to use than others. Check out these videos to double check how to use them… 

Also, quitting smoking is hard. The resulting sensations and withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable. Sometimes these discomforts are mistaken for an NRT side effect e.g. sleeping problems are sometimes mistakenly linked to NRT products when they’re often caused by withdrawal, or the fact that nicotine reduces caffeine absorption. 

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. 

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