How effective is nicotine replacement therapy for tobacco withdrawal
NRT – products to help you quit smoking
Nicotine replacement therapy, or NRT, is one of the most effective ways to manage tobacco withdrawal and quit smoking for good.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, and usually the chemical that’s responsible for a smoker’s dependency on tobacco. Going through tobacco withdrawal and the lack of nicotine is one of the hardest challenges most people face when trying to quit smoking.
Nicotine replacement therapy products work by replacing some of the nicotine a smoker would have been getting from smoking, helping them to avoid reaching for the cigarette or tobacco packet.
There are a number of NRT products on the market, and while there isn’t a “best” product or way to quit smoking that works for everyone, using a combination of different types of nicotine replacement therapy has been proven to be one of the most successful methods of quitting smoking.
The science of nicotine addiction and withdrawal
Nicotine creates dependence in a similar manner to all other addictive substances. Just a few seconds after taking a drag of that cigarette, the nicotine heads straight to the reward system in your brain, giving you a ‘hit’ due to increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Neurotransmitters regulate your moods and behaviours, and dopamine is specifically associated with pleasure. When you take up smoking, over time you need more nicotine to release the same amount of dopamine, which means you have to smoke more just to reach the same pleasurable experience – a pattern that creates addiction.
Once your body becomes dependent on a certain level of nicotine to maintain your dopamine balance, it becomes agitated when that nicotine is taken away. Until your body recalibrates and remembers how to produce dopamine without nicotine, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Tobacco withdrawal cravings and strategies to help
There are two main types of cravings, and understanding them will help you to manage them more effectively:
- Intense cravings that come on suddenly which are often triggered by a stressful incident, drinking a cup of coffee or having in a few alcoholic drinks.
- The nagging background craving that gradually eases off the longer you stay away from cigarettes.
There are some effective ways to deal with these cravings, so it’s a good idea to create a plan for when they rear their head to challenge you. Useful tactics include:
- Chewing gum – this gives your mouth something to do other than smoking.
- Do something else – as soon as a craving hits get up and do something to distract yourself like listening to a song you love, going for a walk or having a glass of water.
- Positive reinforcement – give yourself a slap on the back whenever you manage to overcome a craving.
- Exercise – giving up smoking is great for your health, so reinforce this and increase the benefits by learning some simple exercises to do when those cravings hit hard.
How does nicotine replacement therapy work?
Nicotine replacement therapy products work by supplying a small amount of nicotine, which helps the user manage the cravings for a cigarette after quitting and when the tobacco withdrawal kicks in.
Cravings are physiological responses in the body that cause us to yearn for something we’ve become used to getting. Nicotine cravings, in particular, can last for several minutes at a time and be very intense and uncomfortable – often resulting in the effected person giving in to the cravings and resorting back to smoking.
Unfortunately, research shows that most people who try to quit smoking fail within the first month – usually due to the overwhelming cravings and tobacco withdrawal symptoms from going “cold turkey”.
Using NRT is a truly helpful way to deal with tobacco withdrawal and the subsequent cravings. You can use NRT products as soon as you quit smoking, and a lot of people transition immediately from smoking to using them.
By replacing the addictive chemical in tobacco, you won’t experience cravings or that intense yearning for a cigarette.
There are some other challenges involved in quitting, and nicotine is only part of the battle for most smokers. But it’s one of the most important aspects of quitting.
How effective is nicotine replacement therapy?
NRT has been proven to be very effective, although more so in combination with other aids to help you quit smoking.
Nicotine replacement therapy only deals with physical dependence. There are also emotional and psychological struggles to conquer when quitting, and these need to be dealt with in another way.
Why should I use NRT to quit smoking?
There are two main reasons why using NRT products to give up smoking makes a lot of sense for most people:
- With nicotine being the most addictive substance in cigarettes, continuing to supplying that chemical allows a person to detach from smoking
- Nicotine is relatively harmless – it’s the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause the health issues
Types of NRT products
The most popular types of nicotine replacement therapy are:
Patches – These are available over the counter and can be stuck directly onto your skin. They provide a small amount of nicotine on a consistent basis while being worn.
Gum – These are also available over the counter. Some people prefer chewing gum as it gives them something to do to replace the action of putting a cigarette into their mouths.
Inhaler – These are only available with a prescription and deliver a specific amount of nicotine through a mouthpiece.
Nasal Spray – Also only available with a prescription, this allows the user to spray nicotine into their nostril.
Benefits of nicotine replacement inhalers as a cessation strategy
The NHS states that nicotine replacement therapy is a genuine, tried and tested method to quit smoking.
NRT inhalers make this strategy even more effective because they:
- Mimic the sensation of raising a cigarette to your mouth
- Provide a precise dose of nicotine to help you manage your tobacco withdrawal
- Offer a completely safe delivery system to help you overcome your nicotine addiction
If you’re ready to quit smoking and you’re interested in trying some NRT products to help with the nicotine and tobacco withdrawal symptoms, it’s worth having a chat with your GP or pharmacist to find out which is the most suitable type of nicotine replacement therapy for you.