According to the American Cancer Society, only four to seven percent of people will successfully quit smoking in any given attempt (without the use of medication). So, if you're considering some sort of medication or Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), what works best? Ahead, we break down some of the most popular ways to ease the transition.
The benefit of the patch is that it provides a consistent level of nicotine in the bloodstream. No peaks and valleys here. However, there are some drawbacks as well. You can develop skin irritation around the site of the patch. Also, you'll need to be very careful to pick the appropriate amount of nicotine — most patches come in a variety of strengths — because if you go too high, then you could be facing side effects like restlessness, rapid heartbeat, and irritability.
Finally, some people deal with intense nightmares while wearing the patch to bed, so know that you might need to pop the patch off before you retire. The FDA has approved nicotine patches for a total of three to five months.
The gum is a great option for those who would rather be able to have nicotine exactly when they want it. Though the nicotine absorption here — through your gums — is definitely slower than inhaling smoke, it's still going to hit you faster than the patch. Again, you'll want to carefully assess what strength you need to avoid taking in too much nicotine. Beyond the possibility of shakiness, jumpiness, and irritability, nicotine gums can also have unfortunate digestive side effects.
You don't "chew" nicotine gum in the same way that you chew typical gum — with nicotine gum you chew just a little bit, then pack it into the space between your gum and cheek so that the nicotine can enter your bloodstream. But, even so, some nicotine is invariably swallowed in the process. For some, this can lead to heartburn and nausea. Nicotine lozenges work in a similar way, by absorbing into the mucus membranes of the mouth. Because there are no long-term studies on how nicotine in gum or lozenge form affects health, most doctors recommend not using these therapies for over six months.
While some medications are used off-label to help smokers quit, there are only two that are FDA approved in the U.S. for smoking cessation: varenicline (commonly sold as Chantix) and bupropion (commonly sold as Zyban). They are two different classes of medication, and each works in a different way.
Varenicline is a nicotinic receptor partial agonist — meaning that it binds to the nicotine receptors in the brain, but with less efficacy than nicotine. And, it acts as a competitor to nicotine when both are in the brain. So, this drug basically blocks off many of the nicotine receptors in the brain, but doesn't make the user feel "buzzy." So, if you were to smoke while on this drug, it simply wouldn't feel as good.
Bupropion, an atypical antidepressant that is also sold under the brand name Wellbutrin, works to decrease and eliminate cravings and has a fairly high success rate comparable to NRT. In some studies varenicline has been more successful in cessation than bupropion.
However, it's very important to know that these medications sometimes have serious adverse effects, including depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. It's not known why some experience these effects, but if you're on these medications and you don't feel like yourself, talk to your doctor immediately.
The nicotine inhaler is a form of NRT that's most similar to actually smoking, so some people find that it helps ease the transition (hey, you still get to puff on something). It's available only by prescription and is NOT the same thing as an e-cigarette, though it does work in a similar way. Although some people do use e-cigarettes to curb or quit smoking, they haven't been evaluated by the FDA for this purpose. So, you don't really know what you're getting in the vapor.
Nicotine inhalers, however, are FDA approved to help you quit, though they're more expensive than other forms of NRT. If you can't seem to shake that dependence on the "quick hit" that first cigarette of the day gives you, then inhalers could be a good option. The nicotine hits you way faster than with other NRT options, so your cravings will be curbed quickly.
But remember, often, the faster a drug hits your system, the more addictive it becomes. (Your brain loves that instant gratification.) So, some people find it hard to transition from nicotine inhalers to a nicotine-free existence. However, there are lots of creative ways to get beyond this. You could even step down from the inhaler to using the gum or patch at a later time if it's too tough to just quit it cold turkey.
So, whatever way you choose to quit — whether with NRT, prescription medication, social support, or just plain cold turkey — you're making a powerful choice for your health. Best of luck! Have a success story to share? Let us know in the comments.