Hooked on Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine patches allowed me to quit smoking, but now it’s time to quit the patches.

I’ve been an on-and-off smoker for nearly my entire adult life. In the past, I’ve managed to stay off cigarettes for as long as a year, but I allowed stressful life events to turn into excuses to pick them back up.

I most recently quit smoking this February. After initially trying and failing to quit cold turkey, I turned to nicotine replacement therapy for help.

Nicotine replacement therapy is a broad category that describes all of the nicotine-based alternatives to cigarettes — lozenges, gum, and in my case, nicotine patches.

According to the American Cancer Society, replacement therapy can double your chances of quitting smoking. I’ve also had personal success using it in the past, so I had high hopes when I started using the patches back in February.

The 12-Week Cycle

The way that nicotine patches work is by slowly releasing nicotine into your body throughout the day. They come in three different “steps,” containing incrementally less nicotine.

The first step has 21 mg, the second has 14, and the third and final step has 7 mg. In comparison, smoking through a pack of cigarettes would typically lead to ingesting about 20 mg of nicotine, around as much as the first step of patches.

The patches are meant to be used in a twelve-week cycle, gradually reducing your daily nicotine intake until you finally stop entirely.

Both the patch manufacturers and the American Cancer Society warn against continuing use after twelve weeks have passed.

Long Term Nicotine Replacement Therapy

After finishing the twelve-week cycle last month, I tried to stop using the patches and failed completely.

I had successfully worked my way down to the 7 mg patch, but on my first day without it, I broke down and bought a pack of cigarettes.

The next morning, I threw away the cigarettes that were left and bought another two-week box of 7 mg patches.

That was the start of a frustrating cycle that has continued for the past month and a half. When I’m on the patches, even though they are just 7 mg, I feel like I’m doing fine. As soon as I’m off, I defy every logical bone in my body by going right out and buying another pack.

My family members have suggested that I just stay on the patches long-term, but I’m reluctant to do so. Although the patches are surely healthier than smoking, I worry about what negative effects long-term use would have.

Fortunately, in 2013, the FDA released the results of a study stating that nicotine replacement therapy could be used longer than recommended. This helps somewhat to ease my concerns, although I know myself well enough to realize that I will have to be careful not to let this turn into an excuse to drag out my use of patches indefinitely.

Maintaining a Positive Outlook

What should have been a twelve-week process has now turned into an eighteen-week ordeal. Despite that, I truly believe that the best thing I can do for now is to keep trying to go nicotine free and continue to maintain a positive attitude.

Although I’ve failed to get off the patches, even being able to transition to them in the first place was a success. I’ve already noticed how much my breathing has improved since February, and although I’m still hooked on nicotine, it’s at a much lower level than it had been four months ago.

I had my first cigarette early in high school and started smoking a pack a day when I was in undergrad. That’s a lot of years that I’ve spent building a dependence on nicotine.

In order to finally be truly free of this years-long habit, I’m going to have to keep trying harder, and that’s exactly what I’m prepared to do.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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