How Effective Are Nicotine Patches?
Tobacco-based products often come with a lot of negative health consequences. The most commonly used tobacco product is cigarettes, with the number of smokers worldwide reaching over one billion as of 2019.
Although most of the negative effects of smoking are attributed to the other harmful components in cigarettes (known as carcinogens), it is the effects of nicotine on the body that cause tobacco addiction.
Nicotine is a naturally occurring compound found in the tobacco plant. When inhaled, it gets absorbed into your body through your lungs. Within minutes, it enters the bloodstream and heads towards your brain.
Here, it binds to the acetylcholine receptors and activates the areas in your brain that are associated with feelings of pleasure and motivation. But these effects are very short lived, lasting just a few minutes.
And this is why smoking is so addictive! You crave the hit of pleasure that nicotine provides, so you find yourself reaching for cigarette after cigarette to keep that smoker’s high.
A number of changes start to occur in your body when you decide to quit smoking because you can no longer satisfy your nicotine cravings. You start experiencing the effects of nicotine withdrawal, such as headaches, irritability, mood swings, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.
Nicotine withdrawal is not pleasant and it’s the main reason why people find it so difficult to give up smoking.
In an attempt to help smokers avoid the negative side effects of intense nicotine cravings, the nicotine patch was created. It was approved in 1991 by the FDA and was available on a prescription between 1992 and 1996, after which it became available as an over-the-counter product (where no prescription is required).
What is a Nicotine Patch?
Nicotine patches are a form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT temporarily replaces the nicotine in tobacco to reduce your motivation to grab a cigarette to relieve the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Other products that contain medicinal nicotine include inhalers, nasal sprays, nicotine gums, and nicotine lozenges.
Although other smoking cessation methods have been favored over the past few years, NRT is still a popular choice for many people (to learn more about these additional quit smoking methods, see below).
How Do Nicotine Patches Work?
Nicotine patches work by issuing a slow and controlled dose of nicotine into your body throughout the day. This reduces the effects of nicotine withdrawal without a cigarette in sight.
Transdermal nicotine patches can be placed anywhere on your body, but most people choose to place them on the upper arm. Over time, their strength is reduced which helps you to gradually wean yourself off nicotine. They should be replaced once a day and kept clean and dry.
Usually, nicotine patches are available in three different dosage strengths - 21 mg, 14 mg, and 7 mg. The dosage indicates the amount of nicotine that is released by the patch.
Generally, if you’ve only just quit smoking, you will be recommended to start on the highest dosage (21 mg). From this point, the aim is to slowly reduce the dosage until you no longer need the patches.
Are Nicotine Patches Effective?
All five of the NRT medications that are currently used have been shown to aid long-term abstinence from smoking. However, the results can vary from person to person and the evidence is varied.
Compared to other forms of NRT, nicotine patches are one of the most correctly used options, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine. In turn, you would expect that nicotine patches are also one of the most effective forms of NRT.
A study in 1994 concluded that nicotine patches were effective for smoking cessation. However, one recent meta-analysis found that less than 20% of those using NRT were still abstinent a year later.
Are There Any Side Effects to Using Nicotine Patches?
Nicotine patches prevent you from inhaling the plethora of harmful chemicals that cigarette smoke contains. They satisfy your nicotine cravings without you needing to smoke a cigarette. But that does not mean that nicotine patches don’t come with their own drawbacks.
Some of the main side effects of using a nicotine patch include
- Nausea and vomiting
- Redness or swelling at the site of the patch
- Itching or a burning sensation at the site of the patch
What Are Some Other Ways to Quit Smoking?
Alongside nicotine patches and other forms of NRT, there are other methods that will help you curb your nicotine cravings and quit smoking once and for all. These methods are all unique and may not work for everybody. For the best chances, it’s a good idea to try multiple smoking cessation methods in combination.
Here are some of the most common methods that are used by millions of people worldwide to help them quit smoking.
Aromatherapy is an ancient medicinal practice that was first used in 3500 BC. It is a form of holistic healing that uses natural plant extracts and essential oils to enhance physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Since then, aromatherapy has been used in multiple different scenarios, including treating military soldiers during battle. In the modern-day, the use of essential oils as therapy is extremely popular. It is now recognized as its own branch of medicine.
Essential oils can be inhaled as a vapor or rubbed directly into the skin. Some oils are not appropriate for direct skin contact, so you should always consult a healthcare professional if you’re new to using essential oils. No essential oil should be ingested or placed into the mouth as it can damage the internal organs.
Aromatherapy can help you quit smoking by activating specific areas in your brain that are associated with emotions, hormonal balance, and breathing. These structures are collectively known as the limbic system.
One of the main reasons that many people find it extremely difficult to quit smoking is because of the negative effects of nicotine withdrawal. These include headaches, irritability, mood swings, inability to concentrate, and insomnia, all of which can be reduced with the use of aromatherapy.
Specific essential oils have unique properties and cause different effects on the body. But many of them have the ability to reduce anxiety and headaches, balance mood, and boost sleep quality and quantity. This makes them beneficial for those who are trying to quit smoking and are experiencing severe nicotine withdrawal.
For example, basil essential oil can enhance your concentration and may boost your mood. Lavender essential oil can reduce headaches and migraines, and helps you to feel calmer and more relaxed. Thyme essential oil can reduce anxiety and stress.
Using a combination of essential oils as part of an aromatherapy practice for smoking cessation makes dealing with cravings and withdrawal symptoms much easier. Instead of reaching for the cigarette packet, you will be filling up your essential oil diffuser!
Hypnosis involves entering a trance-like state under the guidance of a hypnotherapist, who will then make statements and suggestions that encourage you to re-think the way you see smoking and how it makes you feel. For example, you may be asked to imagine all of the negative consequences of smoking cigarettes
The aim is to encourage you to focus on the negative effects of smoking while you’re under hypnosis so that you will remember them when you’re feeling the urge to smoke in the future.
Hypnosis has been shown to be effective for those who are trying to quit smoking, especially when used in combination with other smoking cessation techniques. However, there is mixed evidence. Anecdotally, many people have great success but studies show that hypnosis is no more effective than other smoking cessation methods or addiction treatments.
Only a quarter of the population is able to achieve a trance-like state so hypnosis won't work for everybody, and even those who are able to enter a trance will have varying success using this method for smoking cessation.
Hypnosis likely works by relaxing the mind and helping you to deal with the side effects of nicotine withdrawal more easily. It may also work by shifting your focus towards the negatives of smoking cigarettes, such that when you reach for a cigarette, you remind yourself of why smoking is bad for your health and you reconsider.
Counselling or Therapy
Smoking cessation counseling or therapy is an effective method to help you quit smoking. It works in a similar way to therapy for other addictions or mental health conditions.
You will sit in a room with a counselor or therapist and talk through your struggles. During your sessions, you may be asked to identify the thoughts and feelings that you have around smoking through a series of therapy techniques.
The healthcare professional will help you to identify why you started to smoke and why you continue to smoke. They may highlight the negative effects that smoking has on your health to encourage you along your smoking cessation journey.
Quitting smoking is a difficult journey. However, there are many different products and techniques that can help you along the way.
If you are considering trying out nicotine patches, make sure you consult your doctor beforehand. Keep in mind that none of the above methods, including nicotine patches, are not guaranteed to help you quit smoking. However, they are worth a try!