Perhaps only a smoker understands another smoker’s plight. Before one can even realize it, cigarettes assert themselves in every part of our lives – right after waking up, during work, after work, on the pot, after a meal and so on and so forth.
Despite the long list of chronic and acute diseases attributed to cigarette-use, close to 11 crore people in India were reported to be smokers as of 2012, out of which more than 981,100 people in India are killed by tobacco-caused diseases every year (Tobacco Atlas).
In the high-pressure world that we inhabit today, the reasons for smoking cited by smokers range from social integration, experimentation, weight management (surprisingly!) and the most common one: stress and anxiety management. Whatever the reason, we smokers know deep down that they are all just excuses, rationalising the addiction for as long as it takes. If we know that, the question remains: why is it so hard to quit?
Understanding the chemistry of nicotine addiction in detail can be a complex task. However, it may also be simply understood as summarized in this one minute video:
- Essentially, nicotine facilitates the release of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, generating pleasure and reward.
- Over time, the receptors develop a tolerance, requiring you to smoke more and more to gain the same pleasure and at the same time, making it harder and harder to quit.
- Interestingly, it is not the nicotine that is nearly as harmful to us as the carcinogenic substances in tobacco smoke.
Simply put, nicotine addiction works like a stripper, teasing you to want more and more with time, but giving you only half the pleasure. That is why it is so hard to quit!
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)
Kicking the habit just with willpower is incredibly hard, or incredibly easy as Mark Twain likes to put it
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times”.
Then, is there no salvation for our ailing minds and bodies? There is! Take a cue from Sherlock. He does it with nicotine patches.
The patch is an adhesive bandage which should be stuck to any part of the body above the waist but below the neck. It is one of the means used in what is often called Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) by medical professionals. It contains about one-third or half the amount of nicotine compared to a regular cigarette.
When a smoker tries to quit without any aid, the withdrawal symptoms he/she experiences include irritability, irregular bowel movements, disruption of hunger and the worst of all – uncontrollable craving. One of my close friends decided to go cold-turkey one day, without the help of any aids and though he succeeded, the withdrawal symptoms especially in the first month were excruciating!
The patch provides the nicotine required by the brain to maintain its chemical balance (especially of dopamine) and thus avoids the withdrawal symptoms at the same time. Gradually, over a 6 – 12 week course, the dosage of nicotine is reduced and finally, the brain’s dependence is eliminated.
The patch works not only in theory, but also in practice. In studies conducted in Denmark and in America, it was found that the patch was about 1.5 to 2 times more effective as a quitting aid compared to a placebo. A report by the American Cancer Society also claims the same.
Apart from patches, there are other aids that are used in NRT. Nicotine gum and lozenges are the most common ones. They are effective and have minor side-effects. But honestly, they taste terrible! I vomited after having a gum once. Then there are nicotine inhalers, which even mimic the oral fixation. Sometimes they cause sore throats and upset stomachs. Finally, there are the nicotine nasal and mouth sprays, which provide rapid increase in nicotine levels in the body. However, their side-effects include nose, throat and mouth irritation, and watering eyes. Out of all these, the patches and the gum are the perfect combination of effectiveness and little-to-no side-effects (if you can bear the taste of the gum that is!).
While Nicotine Patches are mostly safe to use, they do have side effects just like all forms of NRT. The most commonly reported ones are occasional skin rashes caused by the adhesive and sleep problems in case of 24 hour patch-use. People with skin allergies to adhesives should consult a doctor before using the patch and for the latter, simply removing the patch few hours before sleeping has been proven to be helpful.
Why Nicotine Patches are a good idea:
- Avoid harmful smoke without any withdrawal symptoms
- Cheaper than smoking cigarettes over a long period of time
- Available in over-the-counter form, without prescription
- Approved by FDA as safe and effective
- Fewer side-effects compared to other means of NRT like lozenges, inhalers, etc.
Precautions to keep in mind:
- Pregnant women should consult a doctor before using the patch
- Heart or Artery Disease
- Addiction to smoking isn’t just physical. It is also rooted in a psychological dependence. Therefore it is advisable that nicotine patch therapy should be accompanied by support from friends and family.
Deep down, every smoker would love to quit (and I know this from personal experience). Your health, and that of those around you, is the first and most obvious reason to do it. Aids like the Nicotine Patch can be a good stepping stone in that direction. They are available at most drug stores across the country and are a safe and effective way to quit. So if you want to avoid the withdrawal symptoms and still quit, get one today!
P.S. – Here’s another reason to quit - Did you know that 1.69 billion pounds of butts wind up as toxic trash, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of 177,895 endangered African elephants (Tobacco Atlas). So, if not for yourself, quit smoking for mother earth!