Nicotine Patches for Nicotine Addiction
It’s an unfortunate fact that many smokers, although they don’t like smoking and wish they didn’t have to do it, find the prospect of quitting very difficult. Therefore it’s understandable that they seek help in how to stop smoking.
In theory all they have to do is to stub out their last cigarette and – that’s it! Henceforth and forever, they’re non-smokers again. Or, to put it another way, they will have regained the happy state (other things being equal) that they were in before they started smoking and can once again live their lives without needing to poison themselves with tobacco smoke all the time.
In practice, however, as I am well aware, many smokers find the prospect of never smoking again almost intolerable. So they experience genuine difficulty in quitting and seek help.
The orthodox approach by doctors and stop-smoking clinics is to offer some form of so-called nicotine replacement therapy, commonly nicotine patches.
The idea is that you stick these nicotine-impregnated patches onto your skin once a day, usually on your upper arm, and the nicotine is slowly absorbed into your bloodstream. This is intended to relieve or prevent the withdrawal symptoms that a smoker may experience on quitting. Used over a period of some weeks and then by gradually reducing the strength of the patches the hope is that one can thereby wean oneself off nicotine.
Recognised side-effects are redness of the skin where the patch is applied, abnormal dreams, sweating, muscle and joint pains, dry mouth and, in rare cases, abnormal heart rhythms.
Do they work? The nicotine patch is an ‘evidence-based’ treatment for nicotine addiction (synonym: smoking). That is to say, scientific studies allegedly show that using a nicotine product such as the patch can double your chances of quitting! This means increasing your chances of quitting from around 5% unassisted, to 10%.
It’s not a cure-all, of course. Users of nicotine patches will still need willpower and are encouraged concomitantly to avail themselves of what is patronisingly called behavioural support to increase the chance of success.
Nicotine patches, in contradistinction to gum, lozenges and ‘inhalators’, are a passive treatment: apply and forget.
Now picture this. Our poor smoker, desperate to quit, carefully affixes a patch to his upper arm and goes about his business. Then she becomes aware of the desire to smoke – one of the dreaded ‘urges’ has come upon her – and thinks: ‘Oh dear, that d*** patch ain’t working! And it’s two days before the next appointment with my behavioural supporter! I could murder a ciggy!’
This isn’t the only problem with using some kind of nicotine product to cure your nicotine addiction. Here are some others:
- The implication is that quitting smoking is too difficult to do on your own, so you need some kind of ‘aid’ or product to assist or even take over the task of quitting for you.
- There’s a built-in excuse for failure: ‘The patch didn’t work!’
- The concept of any kind of nicotine ‘replacement’ is wrong-headed: it’s really nicotine maintenance.
- Nicotine products imply that the problem is entirely or largely a physical one; what about the mental or psychological side of smoking?
- Even if you stop with the dubious help of a nicotine patch, what’s to stop you from starting to smoke again?
In my experience of having helped hundreds of smokers successfully to quit, the apparent difficulties are largely in the mind; it’s a question of your attitude to smoking and how you think about the change in your life from being a daily smoker to never taking even one more puff in the rest of your life.
If you think, ‘This is going to be hard, I’ll suffer awful withdrawal symptoms that I’ve read about, it’ll take weeks, I won’t be able to cope with all the stress I have, I’ll need to attend a clinic for behavioural support and use these irritating patches every day’, you’re almost defeated before you start.
But if you can be helped to demonstrate to yourself the reality of smoking and why it seems so hard to quit, then you’ll understand:
- The oft-quoted awful withdrawal symptoms, the ‘urges’ and ‘cravings’ to smoke, are largely untrue.
- What actually happens, if anything, when you stop smoking is short-lived and, for most people, is not too bad.
- If you have a different attitude to smoking and can see quitting as a step – not a process – to freedom from the slavery of addiction – then it will be easy.
Pictures and text © Gabriel Symonds