Going up in smoke

Smoking-1024x1008With quitting smoking topping many lists of New Year’s resolutions, Aoife Valentine considers whether there is any benefit in investing in nicotine patches to help you kick the habit

A recent study has revealed that smokers who use nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) such as nicotine patches or chewing gum to quit smoking have almost equal chances of relapsing as those who quit cold turkey. Nicotine, the drug found in tobacco, is highly addictive and it has been proven that it is just as difficult to stop smoking as it is to break the cycle of addiction to heroin or cocaine.

Nicotine inhaled from smoking tobacco immediately makes its way into the bloodstream and will have stimulated the brain to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls feelings of euphoria, in a matter of seconds. When nicotine levels fall in blood, the smoker develops withdrawal symptoms, which can range from restlessness and irritability to dizziness and an inability to concentrate, and the body craves another injection of the drug into the bloodstream.

These symptoms begin within a few hours of the last cigarette and get increasingly worse if the lack of nicotine isn’t remedied. However, the symptoms peak after twenty-four hours and subside over the following two to four weeks and nicotine cravings peak after three days. It is largely these cravings that NRTs (nicotine replacement therapies) helps people deal with, by releasing lower dosages of nicotine into the bloodstream than would be released through smoking. This can help the addict alleviate cravings without allowing them quit their addiction.

A new study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health Centre for Global Tobacco Control, entitled ‘A prospective cohort study challenging the effectiveness of population-based medical intervention for smoking cessation’ surveyed 1,916 adults, including 787 people who had recently quit smoking. It found while one third of them had relapsed, the likelihood of relapse was not affected by the use of NRTs in the long-term. While previous studies had celebrated the effectiveness of NRTs, they had all been conducted over a period of a few months, whereas this study considered relapse rates over a period of six years. More than making no difference at all, heavy smokers who used NRTs without also attending counselling were twice as likely to relapse as heavy smokers who used neither.

The key to quitting any addiction is self-motivation and the belief that you can succeed, and it is easy to see why NRTs can promote the idea that you can quit without the necessary commitment or that you can’t do it alone. Without the required motivation from the moment you decide to smoke your last cigarette, the likelihood of relapse is ninety per cent when quitting cold turkey, or ninety-three per cent with the aid of NRTs. While NRTs may help ease initial cravings when you first quit, in order to remain off the cigarettes forever, preparation is needed before you stop using the patches.



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