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Nicotine addiction explained

There's a lot more to smoking than just habits. Nicotine is an addictive substance that causes the urge to smoke. 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 have feelings of nicotine withdrawal when you stop smoking. Feelings of withdrawal can start within hours of your last cigarette, and can include strong cravings, being easily upset, frustrated or irritated, and finding it harder to focus or sleep.

How does nicotine addiction work?

If you smoke, over time your brain has made more receptors that respond to nicotine. These receptors eagerly await incoming nicotine. Think of nicotine as a key, and receptors as little locks. When the nicotine unlocks these receptors, a feel-good chemical called dopamine is released, perhaps 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 lower levels of nicotine, which locks on to some (but not all) of your nicotine receptors. To put it simply, NRT takes the edge off cravings. 

  • Nicotine patches provide a slow, steady level of nicotine over a long period. NRT such as mouth spraygumlozenges and inhalator, give a faster delivery of nicotine that can help you get past short, strong cravings.

  • Most people who smoke need combination therapy: patches PLUS a faster-acting form of NRT.

  • You can buy nicotine patches a discounted price with a prescription from your doctor.

How do nicotine replacement products work?

What about prescribed stop smoking tablets?

If you visit your doctor, you can get a prescription for prescribed stop smoking tablets. These tablets can help to reduce feelings of nicotine withdrawal such as cravings, feeling irritable or frustrated and finding it hard to focus..  They may also make smoking seem less rewarding.  You can buy these tablets at a discounted price with a PBS prescription from your doctor.

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 routinesstress and smoking; and social situations and alcohol

You are more likely to stop smoking for good when you use prescribed stop smoking tablets with QuitlineRequest a Quitline callback.

Quitline is here to help

Quitline counsellors can offer you free advice and support to help you stop smoking. They will work with you to help you build and keep up your motivation, create a personalised plan that works for you, and provide guidance and encouragement along the way. Quitline counsellors can also support you if you are using vapes to stop smoking. 

There are many ways to get in touch with Quitline 13 7848: 

Ways to get in touch

Please note,this information is for general use only.  Please consult your health professional for further advice.  

If you would like to provide feedback, please contact 

Last updated March 2024 

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