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Nicotine patches

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Nicotine patches give a set dose of nicotine through your skin. Over a number of weeks, the dose of nicotine in your patches will gradually reduce. This helps to wean you off nicotine, the addictive ingredient in cigarettes.

You don't need a prescription to get nicotine patches. If you have a medical card, you can see your GP for a prescription and get nicotine patches for free.

16 and 24-hour patches

There are two ways to use patches:

  • just during the time you are awake (16-hour patches)
  • both day and night (24-hour patches)

16-hour patch

The 16-hour patch works well if you’re a light or moderate smoker.

The 16-hour patch is less likely to cause side effects. But it doesn’t deliver nicotine during the night. It may not be right if you have early morning withdrawal symptoms.

24-hour patch

The 24-hour patch provides a steady dose of nicotine, avoiding highs and lows. It helps with early morning withdrawal but there may be more side effects.

Choosing the right strength of nicotine patch

Nicotine patches have different doses of nicotine and last for different amounts of time. The strength of patch you should use depends on your level of addiction. Your pharmacist, GP or stop smoking advisor can help you work this out.

Level of addiction

In general:

  • a heavy smoker is someone who smokes 20 or more cigarettes or rollies a day
  • a moderate smoker is someone who smokes between 10 and 20 cigarettes or rollies a day
  • a light smoker is someone who smokes fewer than 10 cigarettes or rollies a day

General guide to using the correct strength of nicotine patch

This guide covers when to use the different strengths of nicotine patch.It works for most smokers.

Get advice if you're not sure which strength of nicotine patch you should use. Talk to your pharmacist, GP or stop smoking advisor. You can also call the Quit line on 1800 201 203.

First 4 weeks

Use the full-strength patch for the first 4 weeks.

Full-strength 16-hour patches have 25 milligrams of nicotine.

Full-strength 24-hour patches have 21 milligrams of nicotine.

Second 4 weeks

Use the middle-strength patch for the second 4 weeks.

Middle-strength 16-hour patches have 15 milligrams of nicotine.

Middle-strength 24-hour patches have 14 milligrams of nicotine.

Final 3 to 4 weeks

Use the low-strength patch during the final 3 to 4 weeks.

16-hour patches have 10 milligrams of nicotine.

24-hour patches have 7 milligrams of nicotine.

After 3 months

If you still have nicotine cravings after 3 months, you can continue to use the patch.

You should gradually try to reduce your use of patches. For example, you can put the patch on for half the day or every second day, then stop using it completely.

Don't cut the patch in half - this affects the delivery of nicotine.

You can use the patch in combination with other fast-acting nicotine products to help manage cravings. For example, gum, lozenge or mouth spray. A good guide is to use one of these fast acting products on the hour, every hour.

How to use nicotine patches
Put the patch on in the morning on a part of your body that is below your neck and above your waist. For example, on your upper arm or chest.

  1. Remove the plastic backing from the patch before sticking it to your skin.
  2. Place it on a clean, dry area of your skin that does not have much hair. Do not apply patches to broken or infected skin.
  3. Hold it in place for 10 to 20 seconds to make sure it sticks well.
  4. Change your patch each day.
  5. Remove the previous day's patch before you apply the new patch.
  6. Put the new patch on a different area of your skin.

Side effects

Some people may get side effects from using nicotine patches.

Side effects can include:

  • skin irritation, muscle aches and stiffness when using patches
  • racing heartbeat
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia), sometimes with vivid dreams
  • an upset stomach
  • dizziness
  • headaches

Some side effects, such a racing heart, may happen because the dose of nicotine is too high for you. You could also have nicotine withdrawal symptoms if the NRT dose is too low.

Side effects are usually mild. But, if they’re bothering you, contact your GP or pharmacist. You may need to change the dose or type of NRT.

What to do about side effects:

  • Try a different brand of patch if your skin becomes irritated.
  • Reduce the amount of nicotine by using a lower-dose patch.
  • Sleep problems may go away in 3 or 4 days. If not and you’re using a 24-hour patch, try switching to a 16-hour patch.
  • Stop using the patch and try a different form of NRT.

Related topics

Nicotine gum

Nicotine inhaler

Nicotine lozenges

Nicotine mouth spray

page last reviewed: 29/03/2019
next review due: 29/03/2022

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