Nicotine patches are nicotine delivery systems that provide an alternative to smoking cigarettes. They deal with one element of addiction: the chemical element. “That patch,” as it is often referred to, can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. As with any quit-smoking product containing nicotine, however, smokers should consult their doctor before using a nicotine patch, especially if they are pregnant or suffer from chronic conditions.
What’s in a Nicotine Patch?
The patch provides nicotine to your blood through the skin. That is all the patch contains: no other toxins associated with cigarettes like formaldehyde; no smoke, nothing inhaled, and nothing ingested. It’s sticky, so if you are allergic to band-aids these could make your skin itch or even swell up.
Otherwise, if you were allergic to nicotine, cigarettes would never have become an issue, so you are potentially safe to use the patch with some exceptions (always read the warnings on labels which indicate conditions that potentially interact with nicotine delivery of this kind).
The idea of a patch is that nicotine is released a little at a time. You don’t receive one quick blast but your system slowly absorbs enough nicotine to reduce the temptation; the terrible urges and cravings to light up a cigarette. You won’t go through abrupt withdrawal, but instead a slow withdrawal your body and mind are better able to cope with. Compared with quitting cold turkey, this is a much less intense option but probably takes longer (three months as opposed to perhaps two weeks before withdrawal is over).
The best-known brand of nicotine patch is Nicoderm (“derm” meaning “skin”). Patches contain 7, 14, and 21 mg respectively. They are relatively affordable and simple. There are lots of reviews about this product too, which is an advantage if you want to discover whether the patch is a viable nicotine delivery system for you.
Forget about It
One reason people like the patch is that they put one on and forget it’s there. Although most people wear them on the upper arm, other locations are suitable, the primary goals being to place it:
• where the skin is not too sensitive
• where it will not be seen
• in an area that is unlikely to get wet frequently
Weaning from Nicotine
You do not receive up to 21 mg of nicotine in a single hit: that would kill a person. The amount of nicotine in a patch is chosen to constantly feed your body the stimulant it desires at a rate that’s close to what your system craves.
Customers can choose a level according to the strength of their cigarettes, the number they smoke daily, or their stage of smoking cessation. For instance, choose the highest dose at first before graduating to the middle dose followed by the 7-mg patch and, finally, total smoking cessation.
Some quit-smoking programs fund smokers’ use of the patch, so you could get all or part of the cost covered.
There is no way to avoid withdrawal when you start to quit smoking, slowly or quickly. Withdrawal symptoms vary between individuals based on their tolerance for nicotine, their method of cessation, support and distraction, and how much they smoked.
Common complaints include:
• feeling achy
• emotional disturbance
• gastric trouble
Patch wearers sometimes report these symptoms, plus irritation of the skin where they wear the patch. This could be caused by nicotine, the adhesive, or the material used to make the patch. Other symptoms probably have more to do with withdrawal than the nicotine delivery system, but talk to your doctor if symptoms are severe. Don’t use the patch if symptoms include heart palpitations or leg pain (possible thrombosis).
What if the Patch Doesn’t Work?
How will you feel if the nicotine patch didn’t do the job you expected? Approach smoking cessation from a different angle: patches and gum aren’t miracle potions. Determination to quit is the other part of this journey.
To successfully quit smoking, one must be willing to resist some cravings, including the desire to hold something in your mouth and puff on it. If it helps to chew pencils or suck on a stick of candy, then do that for a while but try not to replace one addiction or bad habit with another.
Manufacturers suggest that customers should use the patch for around 10 weeks, but that’s an estimate. You might need more or less time to overcome your reliance on cigarettes or extra support. Talk to your physician about whether other smoking cessation products are suitable to be used with the patch.