There are many products on the market designed to help quit smoking. One example is the nicotine patch, which is available over the counter at most pharmacies and is a cost-effective and low-effort method to curb a smoking habit.
Here’s what you need to know about nicotine patches and how to decide if it’s the right option for you.
Yes, nicotine patches do work
Nicotine patches act as a replacement for cigarettes, cigars, and other nicotine-containing products. They do this by slowly releasing small amounts of nicotine to curb cravings.
Smoking is difficult to quit because of a physical addiction to nicotine, the active compound found in tobacco. This occurs because nicotine causes the brain to release dopamine — a feel-good hormone that causes people to feel a rush or buzz.
The more regularly you smoke, the higher your tolerance and amount of nicotine you need to replicate that buzz, increasing your dependency on tobacco. That’s why when people stop smoking, they experience withdrawal symptoms like trouble sleeping and irritability.
“Nicotine patches help to relieve these withdrawal symptoms,” says Ugo Iroku, MD, a physician in New York City.
A large 2016 study studied the effectiveness of three smoking cessation treatments: nicotine patches, the prescription drug varenicline, and a combined treatment with the patch and nicotine lozenges. At a six month checkpoint, 23% of those using the nicotine patch, 24% of those taking varenicline, and 27% of those on the combination treatment had quit smoking.
After one year, 21% of those using the nicotine patch, 19% of those taking varenicline, and 20% of those using the combination treatment were still abstaining from smoking.
How do nicotine patches work?
“Nicotine patches are small, self-adhesive patches that release a steady amount of nicotine throughout the day,” says Iroku. The patch releases nicotine through the skin and into the bloodstream to relieve cravings.
Patches require daily replacement, and continual use should not exceed eight to 12 weeks without conferring with a medical professional.
In order to start using nicotine patches, you must stop smoking. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a nicotine overdose. If this occurs, “stop using nicotine patches as well as smoking and seek medical help,” says Anis Rehman, MD, an assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at Southern Illinois University.
Some symptoms of a nicotine overdose include:
- Heart palpitations
- Cold sweats
While the patch provides a person’s body with nicotine throughout the day, pairing it with additional nicotine replacement therapies such as gum, nasal spray, and lozenges can improve withdrawal symptoms.
“There are moments when a person has increased withdrawal symptoms from time to time during the day,” says Iroku. “During these moments, additional nicotine can be safely obtained, not by returning to smoking, but instead by using a number of the other nicotine replacement therapies which exist.”
Iroku recommends those using the patch simultaneously undergo smoke cessation counseling — a treatment that identifies and works through the behavioral and psychological parts of overcoming nicotine addiction. Ask your doctor for recommendations on providers with this expertise.
Nicotine patch dosing
Even if you have quit smoking, pay close attention to how much nicotine is in the patches you choose. “The beginning doses should be similar to the daily nicotine intake you were receiving from smoking tobacco,” says Iroku.
Most smokers should start with 15 to 22 mg of nicotine daily for four to six weeks. At that point they can switch to a lower dose with the goal of completely stopping nicotine use by week 10, says Iroku.
Meanwhile, light smokers — those who smoke less than 10 cigarettes a day — and people under 99 pounds should start with a lower dose of five to 14 mg of nicotine a day for four to six weeks, and then lowering the dosage for another two weeks.
Those who are pregnant or still smoking should not use nicotine patches
While nicotine patches can help many people quit smoking, they are not advisable for everyone. According to Rehman and Iroku, you should consult with a doctor before using nicotine patches if you are:
- Actively smoking
- Pregnant — although you should not be using any tobacco products while pregnant due to their ability to cause birth defects
- Diagnosed with kidney, liver, overactive thyroid, peptic ulcer, or gastroesophageal reflux diseases
The bottom line
Nicotine patches are an effective way to quit smoking. People can use them simultaneously with other options such as nicotine gum or lozenges. Patches should not be used if a person is still smoking, pregnant, or breastfeeding.
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This content was originally published here.