Nicotine Patch: A Top Tool for Quitting?
Quitting smoking can be tough. In addition to having to break the psychological part of the habit, you also have to deal with nicotine addiction. Getting off of nicotine is a difficult process no matter what, and it can be so brutal if you take the abrupt “cold turkey” method that many smokers just can’t get through it. Nicotine replacement methods can help smokers kick the habit by allowing them to step down on the amount of nicotine they consume.
How it Works
That’s where the concept of the nicotine patch comes in: the patches stick on to your skin and you absorb the nicotine through your skin, into your bloodstream. This method, called transdermal, releases nicotine into your system as a replacement for smoking.
The nicotine patches have a pad that contains the nicotine, which is covered by a layer of plastic and made to look like a bandage. The patches are extremely sticky and stay in place for most of the day, and will usually not come off even if you bump against them. In general, they are designed to be worn for 24 hours and deliver a specific amount of nicotine over that period.
The beginning dosage of a nicotine patch roughly correlates to how heavily you smoked, so that it will provide an initial adequate replacement for the nicotine you consumed in cigarettes. The strengths range from 7 mg to 21 mg. The intention is that after some time, your body will require less nicotine and you can step down to a lower strength until you are gradually able to taper off the nicotine replacement patches altogether.
The first nicotine transdermal system on the market was NicoDerm CQ, which was introduced by the manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and was approved in 1991. At first, NicoDerm was only available with a doctor’s prescription. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed the product’s status in 1996 to make it available over the counter without a prescription.
Eventually, generic versions of the nicotine patch became available, which significantly lowered the cost of the products. However, the original brand name manufacturers still promote that their products have advantages over the generics because they have stickier adhesive and clear plastic layers that are less obtrusive and match more skin tones.
Side Effects of Nicotine Patches
Side effects to expect in first hour:
- Mild itching
Additional possible side effects:
- Vivid dreams or sleep disturbances
Although nicotine patches are considered safe, they are still a drug and therefore can have negative side effects on your health. Some of the most common side effects associated with nicotine patches include skin irritation, itching, nausea, dizziness, headaches, anxiety, and insomnia. Transdermal nicotine patches can also make you feel like your heart is racing.
Side effects seem to be the worst at higher doses, so you may want to switch to a lower dose patch if you experience intolerable negative side effects.
Even though nicotine replacement patches have side effects and some risks, for many people the benefits far outweigh the risks. Dozens of clinical trials proved the efficacy of the nicotine patch, with success rates of nearly double that of placebo.
Nicotine patches may have additional uses for purposes other than quitting smoking, as well. Researchers are studying the possibility that nicotine patches may treat early dementia and relieve post-surgical pain. Nicotine patches may also help with symptoms related to ulcerative colitis; however, nicotine in any form can actually make symptoms related to Crohn’s disease much worse, and the similarities between these two conditions mean that you should not attempt to self-medicate. Always seek a doctor’s advice if you are using transdermal nicotine patches for any purpose, but particularly when doing so off label to treat other conditions.
Studies are also being done to see if nicotine will help with mental conditions such as depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), as well as Alzheimer’s and Tourette’s syndrome. Nicotine appears to boost concentration, whether you receive nicotine in the form of the transdermal patch or through smoking. The risks from nicotine, particularly related to increased cancer odds, mean that nicotine patches should not be considered benign or harmless, but that researchers may someday find safe ways to use them.
Transdermal nicotine replacement therapy can be a very effective way to help you quit smoking once and for all. However, the patches need to be treated with caution and kept out of the reach of children, and should definitely not be used if you are continuing to smoke.
Best Nicotine Patches Reviews and Ranks for 2016
- NicoDerm CQ (Top brand of 2016)
GSK is the pioneer in the patch industry, and their two-decade old product NicoDerm CQ is still the industry leader. NicoDerm is a transparent, transdermal patch that is barely visible on your arm and delivers instant, a steady stream of nicotine into your body. This is really amazing, because most cheap patches either deliver too much nicotine too quickly, or take too long, while NicoDerm CQ seems to have found the right sweet spot. And that’s why it’s not only the number one on our list, but also the number one doctor recommended product for smoking cessation in America.
A 14-patch pack costs about $28, which can last for at least 14 days. Manufacturer claims that one patch can deliver nicotine for up to 24 hours, however, depending on your smoking habits you might need another patch after about 16 hours. A commonly reported side effect of NicoDerm is rash on the skin, so if you’re prone to skin allergies, make sure you consult a doctor before using it. Also, it’s a good idea to keep switching the spot on your skin where you use the patch.
While the manufacturer recommends using the patch for 8-10 weeks depending on how many cigarettes you smoke daily, but within 3-4 weeks, your cravings will go away, you will feel much better, and all the apparent side effects of smoking will start to diminish.
- Habitrol Nicotine Transdermal System Patches
Habitrol patch is another great product for smokers who want to quit smoking. A pack of 14 patches costs about $30, and each patch lasts for about 15-17 hours. For sustained, smooth delivery of nicotine to fulfill your cravings, Habitrol patches gradually release nicotine into your skin that’s eventually absorbed into your bloodstream.
The good thing about Habitrol nicotine patches is that you can choose from three different potency levels to gradually reduce your nicotine intake, and finally stop using it at all. Habitrol recommends an eight-week period for permanently quitting smoking. The patch ensures you don’t experience the withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, restlessness, headaches, increased appetite etc. when your body stops getting the nicotine its accustomed to.
Interestingly, one of my teammates at Quit Smoking Community stopped smoking cold turkey, but slipped after about one year. This time she used Habitrol for quitting, and was surprised how easy it was to quit with a high-quality nicotine patch on your arm. A noticeable nuisance she noticed with Habitrol patches was that they sometimes come off, so you have to make sure your skin is perfectly clean and dry before applying it. Hopefully, they’ve improved the adhesive they use in their patches by now.
- Equate Nicotine Transdermal System
A rather more affordable and more popular transdermal system patches is the Equate, that costs you $26 for a pack of 14 patches. It comes in two different strengths: Step 1, for those who smoke 10 or less cigarettes every day, and step 2 for those who smoke more. Although, the Equate patches might not be as powerful as the other two patches on our list, but they surely get the job done at a better price.
Equate patches have also the same issue as Habitrol, they come off after a few hours, especially if you sweat a lot. Some people reported to have minor headaches, however, it’s definitely better than continuing to smoke and risking cancers, respiratory diseases and heart disorders.
Tips on Using Nicotine Patches
Some ex-smokers complain that patches didn’t work for them, but if you take a closer look, it’s usually the person’s fault, not the patch’s. Let’s make sure you don’t do it:
- If you’re 18 or under, always consult your doctor before using patches or any other nicotine product for smoking cessation.
- Remember, even the best nicotine patches are not a silver bullet. You have to be committed and motivated to quit your habit. They’ll pretty much fulfill your nicotine cravings, but you’ll have to fight behavioral issues yourself. But luckily, fixing behavioral problems is easier than surviving nicotine cravings.
- Start wearing a patch on your quit day; not a day before, not a day after
- In comparison to e-cigarettes, the only major benefit patches offer is that they let you know the exact amount of nicotine you are taking. While some e-liquids also allow you to choose your desired nicotine strength, however, patches give a better idea of how much nicotine is going into your body.
- It’s a trial and error method to find the best spot on your body for the patch. For some people, it’s convenient and hassle-free to stick it on their arm, while others find it better to slam it on their buttocks.
- Read and follow instructions given on the label. All you have to do is to unpack and stick the patch onto your body, however, there are little things that manufacturers recommend for best usage of their product, but they can make a big difference.
- You can use a patch for 16-24 hours. If your cravings are under control, you can remove the patch before going to bed and wear again when you wake up.
- Clean up after use. Wash your hands after applying a patch, and dispose used patches properly.
- Cutting patches in half or using more than one patch at a time isn’t recommended.
- Different types of patches suit different people, it’s ideal to consult a health professional for choosing an ideal product
- Although FDA allows using patches for more than eight weeks, it’s ideal to stop using them after 8-10 weeks.
- Always keep the patches and any other nicotine product away from kids and pets.
Success Rates of Nicotine Patches
It has been shown that users of the nicotine patch have a success rate of quitting smoking that is twice the rate of people who have been given placebos. People who have been given placebos, in turn, are about twice as more likely to give up smoking than those who have been given nothing at all. This means that nicotine patches increase the chances of quitting smoking successfully by about a factor of 4. Those are pretty good odds.
There is new research by Duke University Medical Center where it was found that using nicotine patches even before quitting smoking can double success rates. The usual recommendation is for nicotine patches to be used only after a smoker has quit smoking. The reason for this is a fear of nicotine overdose that can result from the extra nicotine from the patches in addition to that from the cigarettes. But it seems that this assumption may be false and not only that, it seems it may have an opposite effect to what one would normally expect. First, this research shows that using nicotine patches while smoking does not constitute an extra danger and second, it suggests that it might actually lead to the smoker smoking fewer cigarettes as a result.
Jed Rose, the director of the Duke Center for Nicotine and Smoking Research Center stated that using nicotine patches before quitting smoking leads to a reduced number of cigarettes smoked by smokers as the patches quench the smokers’ need for nicotine in their system and even makes smoking less enjoyable. Despite this research, there are persistent warnings against using nicotine patches while still smoking.
The research involved about 400 individuals who were regular one pack a day smokers. They were randomly selected into one of four groups for two weeks:
- Those on placebo patches while smoking
- Those on standard nicotine patches while smoking
- Those allowed to continue smoking their regular cigarettes
- Those made to smoke a different brand of cigarettes with low tar/nicotine.
After two weeks of being in their respective groups, they were asked to quit smoking completely and were all given nicotine patches with reduced dosages to use for 10 weeks. The major finding of the research showed that 22% of those that were on nicotine patches while smoking were able to stay off smoking for at least 10 weeks compared to only 11% of those who were on placebos. This means that nicotine patches made it possible for twice the number of people willing to quit to be successful. As for the almost 80% that did not meet the 10-week target, it shows that a strong will to quit smoking is the other ingredient required to make smoking cessation through the use of nicotine patches a success. There were no discernable differences between those that were smoking their regular cigarettes and those that were smoking low tar/nicotine cigarettes.
Mr. Rose further asserted that using this procedure can help filter people who nicotine patches will benefit and those it won’t so that other methods can be tried for those that nicotine patches are not effective for.
The Imperial Cancer Research Fund General Practice Research Group published research that was carried out on 1686 heavy smokers who have been smoking averagely 24 cigarettes for averagely 25 years each. The aim of this research is to get the subjects to quit smoking for at least the last 4 weeks of the total 12 weeks of nicotine patch treatment. The smokers were divided into two halves and one-half were placed on placebo treatment and the other half were placed on nicotine patch treatment. Smoking cessation was confirmed in 99 subjects among those placed on placebo treatment which constitutes about 11.7% of them. Smoking cessation was observed in 163 subjects among those placed on nicotine patch treatment which constitutes about 19.4% of them. This shows that there is a positive effect of nicotine treatment on those who have a real desire to quit smoking
Other sources place nicotine replacement therapy at a success rate from 19% to 26% and it is further stated that even over prolonged use, nicotine replacement therapy is far safer than smoking.
From all the information that has been gathered and analyzed, it is safe to say that nicotine patches and Nicoderm CQ Nicotine Patches, in particular, are effective ways for those with a real desire to quit smoking. It is not a magical product that will make the user quit overnight but when used correctly with a lot of willpower, it can help make the quitting process a lot more bearable and effective.
Our Stance on Nicotine Patches
We believe nicotine patches can be a great aid in smoking cessation as they can minimize nicotine craving. However, don’t forget that there are certain side effects of nicotine patches. To minimize these hazards, you should always choose the best nicotine patches by the most reputable brands, act on the recommended practices by the manufacturer, and always talk to your health professional before using one. But at the end of the day, minor side effects are worth the gift of a smoke-free life.