Are You Addicted to Nicotine Gum or Lozenges ?
Trading One Addiction for Another?
Nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges can be useful tools when you are trying to beat a smoking addiction. However, for a growing number of ex-smokers, there is a risk of trading one addiction for another. The number of smokers who start using these products to quit cigarettes and then find themselves trapped in a new addiction is unknown, but it may be substantial.
Many packages say you should not use nicotine gum or lozenges for more than three months. The trouble is, once you are hooked, you are hooked. I know people who have been using these products for years and are as dependent on them as they were on cigarettes. I find it interesting that no formal studies have been done on the effects of long-term use of these products, and yet nicotine gum and lozenges are readily available over the counter in your local drugstore or supermarket. I also personally know people who have used them for years—many years—and have experienced stomach problems, high blood pressure, borderline glaucoma, and hair loss among other things. All of these problems disappear when they finally stop using the nicotine-replacement products.
In addition, there is growing evidence of a relationship between long-term use of nicotine gum and mouth and throat cancer. I think some real medical studies are definitely in order.
Quitting cigarettes is hard—very hard. I should know. I kicked the habit after more than 30 years and I did it with the help of a nicotine patch, and later nicotine gum. I have now been smoke-free for more than a decade, but not gum- and lozenge-free. It took me years to free myself from that addiction, and my experience is far from unique.
My Nicotine-Replacement Story
I had my last cigarette over a decade ago. I had managed to stop once for four years, but had a life crisis and bummed one cigarette. I couldn't believe that after four years, one cigarette could hurt, but it did. Within months I was back up to two packs a day, and a lot had changed.
For starters, the price of cigarettes had gone up dramatically and people were much less tolerant of smokers than they had been when I smoked before. The upshot was that after a year or so I started trying to quit again. I finally made it, going cold turkey with the help of the nicotine patch. I threw out all my cigarettes one night, slapped the patch on when I woke up the next morning, and that was it. After four weeks on the patch, weaning myself down from 21 mg to 14 mg of nicotine, I decided to switch toNicorette gum, figuring that I would taper off until I was using no nicotine replacement at all.
It didn't happen. Like any good addict, I stopped counting how many pieces of gum I chewed. I kept buying my supply and ignoring the fact that it was taking more and more of the substance to satisfy me. I consumed 10 or more of the 2 mg lozenges or pieces of nicotine gum a day. I grew to like the taste and looked forward to my lozenges the way I had once enjoyed cigarettes. I told myself that it was OK to keep using my lozenges because at least I wasn't smoking.
Now, I hasten to say that there are 4,000 substances in tobacco smoke that are not in the gum or the lozenges and most of them are poison and proven to be carcinogenic, but nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes and when you put it in a lozenge or piece of gum it is still an addictive substance. If you were a highly addicted cigarette smoker, you will be at high risk of becoming addicted to nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges.
That said, I must also admit that only with the help of nicotine replacement therapy was I able to get off cigarettes, so here is what I recommend for you if you are either a long-term user of nicotine gum or lozenges (more than three months) or a highly addicted smoker considering using nicotine replacement as a quitting aid.
How to Get Off the Gum
Whether you are using nicotine gum or lozenges to quit cigarettes, or are an ex-smoker who has become hooked on nicotine replacement, the same rules apply.
- Do not, under any circumstances, smoke a cigarette while using nicotine gum or lozenges. An overdose can be very dangerous and will totally sabotage all your good work.
- Buy a little notebook and carry it at all times. Use as many pieces of gum as you wish to calm cravings, but note how many you use and the time so that you know how many a day you are using. Be honest with yourself and don't cheat or forget—that is important. Most people use 15 to 20 lozenges or pieces of gum a day when they first give up smoking. You want to get a baseline and work down from there.
- After two weeks take away just one lozenge a day and see how you do. The idea is to use the nicotine replacement just enough to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay, but not so much that the gum replaces cigarettes, so you should be feeling mild but manageable cravings. When these stop, withdraw one more lozenge or piece of gum from your daily allotment. Do this for as long as it takes but no longer than three months. Once you are down to five or so nicotine hits a day, you might want to put the lozenges or gum someplace inconvenient in your home—like in the attic or a closet or under a pile of books so that you really have to make an effort to get one—and of course keep track in your notebook.
- If you are still using gum or lozenges three months after giving up cigarettes, you have probably substituted one addiction for another and are just not getting your nicotine hit from cigarettes (which is good) but are still hooked on nicotine which you are getting from gum or lozenges (not so good). Start with step one above and get yourself unhooked. If you can't do it alone, talk to your doctor or enlist a friend to supervise your tapering off period. Do not, under any circumstances smoke a cigarette. It is amazing how stubborn an addiction can be and it is equally amazing how having to be accountable to your doctor or a trusted friend will help you unload those last few nicotine quitting aids and become totally nicotine free.
Kicking cigarettes is no small thing and, as many will tell you, getting hooked on nicotine replacement therapy is not nearly as bad as being hooked on cigarettes. (Plus you don't have to step outside in the rain and cold to chew a piece of gum after dinner.) But, and this is a big BUT: nicotine, even in the form of gum or lozenges is a poison, bad for your body, and highly addictive. Long term use can bring on serious health problems, and there are those who say there may be a link to gastric and mouth cancers, as well as dental problems. The bottom line is: nicotine gum and lozenges can be important aids to quitting cigarettes, but it is equally important to not let the aid become a new addiction.