How to use nicotine replacement therapy to quit cigarettes

If you are struggling to quit cigarette smoking, talk to your doctor about a suitable Nicotine Replacement Therapy

If you are struggling to quit cigarette smoking, talk to your doctor about a suitable Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • Nicotine lozenges are similar to the lozenges you may take for sore throat and are meant to be sucked on slowly like hard candy.
  • Inhalers and nasal sprays provide a more immediate source of nicotine, which can be helpful when you have a sudden craving. These products should be used as directed, typically no more than six times per hour.
  • Nicotine patches are applied to the skin, usually on the upper arm, and deliver a steady supply of nicotine throughout the day.

Some people have successfully quit smoking tobacco at their first try. However, for many people addicted to cigarette smoking, quitting is an uphill task. Most of them fail the first time they try to stop, succumbing to their cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and external pressure.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy, or NRT, makes the process easier. There are different forms of NRT products, all designed as an alternative source of nicotine for the body to help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

How does NRT Work?

Nicotine is the addictive portion of a cigarette that is added to tobacco. As with any other addiction, if you try to quit nicotine after you are already addicted, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, anxiety, trouble sleeping, headaches, changes in bowel movements (for example loose stool or constipation), and intense cravings for nicotine. These can impede your ability to work, study, or carry out routine activities. The resulting frustration makes you more likely to resume smoking.

NRT helps by supplying your body with nicotine without the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. Remember, tobacco is a carcinogen that predisposes one to cancer later in life depending on one's frequency and duration of smoking. This allows you to get your nicotine fix without having to smoke tobacco, which reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Types of NRT Products

NRT products come in various forms, including:

- Gum

- Lozenges

- Inhalers

- Nasal sprays

- Patches

You can use one or more of these products at the same time, depending on your preference, nicotine addiction level, or as directed by a therapist or doctor. For example, the therapist may advise you to combine a fast-acting NRT, such as a nasal spray, with a slow-acting one, e.g. gum, to subdue intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

How to Use NRT Products

It is important to use NRT products as directed to maximize their effectiveness. Nicotine gum, for instance, should be chewed slowly until you taste a peppery flavor, then parked between your cheek and gums or under the tongue. The gum should be chewed again when the peppery flavour fades.

Nicotine lozenges are similar to the lozenges you may take for sore throat and are meant to be sucked on slowly like hard candy.

Inhalers and nasal sprays provide a more immediate source of nicotine, which can be helpful when you have a sudden craving. These products should be used as directed, typically no more than six times per hour. Patients with other respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic cough should avoid this particular method. 

Nicotine patches are applied to the skin, usually on the upper arm, and deliver a steady supply of nicotine throughout the day.

The key to using NRT products successfully is to find one that works for you and to use it as directed. It may take some trial and error to find the right product or combination of products, but once you do, you will be well on your way to quitting cigarettes for good.

Side effects of NRT

Like any other medication, NRT products can cause side effects. The most common side effects are skin irritation from the patch, mouth soreness from the gum, nose or throat irritation from the nasal spray, palpitations or rapid heart rate, lose stool and trouble sleeping

You may also experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle ache and stiffness, and sleep discomfort among other side effects. These side effects are not only rare but also mild and go away after a few uses. If you experience more severe side effects, such as chest pain, dizziness, or difficulty breathing, stop using the product and seek medical attention immediately.

Struggling to quit Smoking? Try Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Have you, or someone close to you, tried quitting but the cravings lead you back to the habit? NRT may be just what you need. It is a safe and effective way to help you quit smoking. It can be used alone or in combination with other quitting methods, such as behavioural therapy. Talk to your doctor about which NRT product is right for you. The quitting journey with NRT may be long and gradual, but it is effective and protects you from extreme withdrawal symptoms.

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