An addiction to nicotine is one of the most difficult to beat. Not only does the body crave nicotine but the mind craves the rituals surrounding smoking (e.g. a cigarette after dinner or chatting with friends while smoking). Quitting cold turkey can backfire when cravings and withdrawal symptoms lead smokers right back to lighting up.
While there are many ways to quit smoking, nicotine gum and other replacement products may make the process easier. Available over-the-counter, nicotine gum releases small amounts of nicotine into the bloodstream, minimizing nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms so that people can quit successfully.
- create a plan
- choose the right strength
- chew nicotine gum to fight cravings
- buy non-nicotine gum
- find healthy substitutes
- use nicotine gum for more than three months
- smoke while using nicotine gum
- chew too many pieces per day
- chew nicotine gum like regular chewing gum
- let the aid become the addiction
Choose a date to stop smoking and create a plan for using the nicotine gum. Plan to use the gum a certain number of times per day or when you experience a strong craving, usually one or two per hour at first. After the first three to four weeks, implement a step-down plan; for example, cut out one piece of gum every few days and/or chew it for 10 to 15 minutes rather than the usual 30 minutes. People using the higher strength (4mg) gum should switch to the 2mg as part of their tapering plan. Keep a notebook handy to record how many pieces you’re using and for how long so that you can monitor your progress. When you’re down to just a few pieces of gum per day, try to stop using it.
Nicotine gum comes in two strengths: 2mg and 4mg. People who smoke 25 or more cigarettes per day may need the higher strength, though they should try switching to the 2mg strength within a few days to see if it will provide adequate relief. Read the package carefully and pick the correct strength so that you have the best chance of controlling cravings when you feel like reaching for a cigarette.
Nicotine gum is especially helpful if you are in a situation you can’t avoid where there is a strong temptation to smoke, such as being near triggers (for example, people who are smoking). Be sure to mark these on your schedule so you can make sure your overall usage is declining over time.
The purpose of nicotine gum is to get just enough nicotine to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms but not so much that the gum gives you the same effect as cigarettes. If you aren’t experiencing strong cravings, you may not need the gum or you may be able to cut down on the number of pieces.
When your cravings aren’t too strong, try replacing nicotine gum with sugarless chewing gum. You may just need something to keep yourself busy and regular gum is an inexpensive way to taper off nicotine gum.
As the days and weeks go by, you’ll need to take steps to become less dependent on the nicotine gum. To avoid relapse or transferring your addiction to the gum, it can be helpful to have healthy substitutes. For example, physical activities like walking, hiking or taking an aerobics class can get you breathing fresh air again. There are also activities such as yoga and meditation that can help you manage stress and other difficult feelings that feed the desire to smoke. It’s also important to spend time with people who motivate you and are supportive of your efforts to quit.
While some people use nicotine gum for six months or more, the manufacturer recommends stopping use after three months. Ideally, it is best to wean yourself off the gum within four to six weeks so you don’t transfer dependence from cigarettes to the gum.
It seems obvious, but it is essential to stop smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products before using nicotine gum. Continuing to smoke can result in nicotine overdose, with side effects ranging from nausea and blurred vision to chest pain, irregular heartbeat and seizures. Smoking while using nicotine gum also reinforces the habit and could undermine your ability to quit in the future.
Chewing too much nicotine gum – more than 24 pieces per day (30 under a doctor’s supervision) – can lead to an unsafe amount of nicotine in the body. This can result in fainting, pounding heart, and cold sweats. Again, the goal is to get enough nicotine to make cravings manageable, not to get the same amount of nicotine as if you were still smoking.
Nicotine gum shouldn’t be chewed in the same way as regular chewing gum. Since the nicotine is absorbed through the cheek, the idea is to chew the gum intermittently, “parking” it between your cheek and gums for a few minutes between chews. Also, unlike regular gum, you should not chew more than one piece at a time or chew one piece too soon after another, or you may experience dizziness, vomiting, and other negative side effects.
Nicotine, whether wrapped in a cigarette, gum or lozenge, is highly addictive. Some people substitute their dependence on cigarettes for a dependence on nicotine gum and continue using it for years. Just as taking out a cigarette, lighting up and putting it to your mouth became a ritual of nicotine addiction, the act of unwrapping and chewing nicotine gum can reinforce the habit.
While cigarettes are undoubtedly more harmful than nicotine gum, some studies suggest that long-term use of nicotine gum may increase the risk of diabetes and certain cancers. If you find yourself chewing the gum non stop, chewing more than recommended or enjoying the buzz a little too much, consider switching to the patch or another replacement therapy. These alternatives minimize nicotine cravings without the added rituals surrounding the use of nicotine gum, which can also trigger cravings. If these approaches do not work, counseling and smoking cessation programs also may be useful.
Used properly with an awareness of the potential for addiction, nicotine gum could be the quit strategy that finally frees you from nicotine dependence. Even if it takes multiple attempts, the payoff is worthwhile: By quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease and cancer is dramatically reduced and you are free to enjoy life smoke-free.