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Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you stop smoking

NRT can help you to stop smoking. It gives you a low level of nicotine, without the tar, carbon monoxide and other poisonous chemicals present in tobacco.

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Nicotine is the ingredient in cigarettes that makes them addictive. This is why it can be hard to give up smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a medication that gives you a low level of nicotine. It does not contain the other poisonous chemicals present in tobacco smoke. For example, tar and carbon monoxide.

Using NRT doubles your chances of quitting smoking. 

There are many different types of NRT:

  • patches
  • gum
  • lozenges
  • inhalers
  • mouth sprays

Your GP, pharmacist or stop smoking advisor can help you decide which type of NRT is right for you.

Getting NRT

You can buy NRT over-the-counter in a pharmacy or some supermarkets. If you have a medical card, you can get free NRT on prescription.

There are some situations when it might not be good to use NRT. Talk to your GP if you:

  • are pregnant
  • are under 18
  • have recently had a heart attack

How NRT works

NRT provides just enough nicotine to relieve cravings and withdrawal symptoms, like:

  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • lack of concentration
  • hunger pangs

NRT will help with the physical withdrawal symptoms. This will help you to focus on the psychological (emotional) aspects of quitting.

For NRT to work, you must:

  • use it correctly - your stop smoking advisor, pharmacist or GP can explain how
  • use it for long enough - usually for 8 to 12 weeks
  • use enough of it for your level of nicotine addiction

If NRT didn't work for you in the past

If you've tried one type of NRT before without success, don't give up on it completely. You may not have used it properly or for long enough. Try again and follow the instructions carefully. You could also be in a different frame of mind the second time around.

There are lots of different types of NRT. You could try a different type of NRT product. Get advice from your pharmacist, stop smoking advisor or GP.

Side effects of NRT

NRT is a safe medication. People who use it rarely experience problems. Just like any medication, you should read the instructions before you use NRT. Get advice from your GP or pharmacist too.

Some people may get side effects from using NRT. These 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 as a racing heart, may happen because the dose of nicotine is too high for you. You could also have nicotine withdrawal symptoms if your NRT dose is too low.

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

NRT is not swapping one addiction with another.

Some people think that using NRT is just swapping one addiction for another. But this isn't true.

Smoking is highly addictive. This is largely because it delivers nicotine very quickly to the brain. This makes stopping smoking difficult. The nicotine levels in NRT are much lower than in tobacco. The way they deliver nicotine makes them less addictive than smoking.

Most health problems are caused by other components in tobacco smoke, not by the nicotine. It is safer to use licensed nicotine-containing products than to smoke.

Related topic

Choosing the right type of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Page last reviewed: 29/03/2019
Next review due: 29/03/2022

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