Have You Become Addicted to Nicotine Gum?

Man holding packet of nicotine gum
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On the surface, chewing a couple of pieces of nicotine gum every day is much better than smoking. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds; 250 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 70 that have been identified as carcinogenic.

We also know that inhaling secondhand smoke is hazardous, and for a smoker, it's a double whammy because we breathe in both mainstream and sidestream smoke. It puts us at risk for heart disease, COPD, and cancer for starters. Research is ongoing – we don't yet fully understand all of the dangers that cigarette smoke presents.

Effects of Nicotine

That said, while cigarette smoke is worse than nicotine alone, nicotine is not a harmless drug. Even when using nicotine replacement therapy to quit smoking, you should be aware of the potential risks that nicotine poses.

Nicotine Can Hurt Your Health

There is growing concern that long-term use of nicotine may contribute to cancer. Nicotine also affects how our bodies function — it puts stress on the heart and increases blood pressure.​

Nicotine harms the linings of our arteries which leads to the build-up of plaque, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Additionally, nicotine suppresses insulin output creating a hyperglycemic condition in smokers.

Nicotine Can Hurt Your Happiness

While it's true that the amount of nicotine you're getting daily from the gum may be small when compared to smoking, don't forget that nicotine is addictive. Regardless of how much or how little you're using, you're still feeding an active addiction.

The message you're sending to yourself is that you can't live without nicotine—that you're not strong enough to give nicotine up completely.

If NRTs Can Be Addictive, Should You Avoid Using Them?

Even though NRTs have the potential for addiction, they are an effective way to quit smoking. Always use caution, however, and follow your doctor's and the manufacturer's instructions.

All forms of NRT except for the nicotine patch are easy to misuse because you take a dose multiple times a day. The patch is the only NRT that is applied once in the morning and offers time-released nicotine throughout the day. 

Talk to your doctor about your options and weigh the potential pros and cons of each option before you decide which one is right for your needs. Your doctor may recommend the patch on its own or a combination, such as a patch and a lozenge or gum as nicotine replacement therapy. 

Research suggests that an approach that combines passive nicotine delivery (e.g. a nicotine patch) with an as-needed NRT (e.g. a gum, inhaler, or nasal spray) improves quit rates by 34% to 54% over the patch alone. The patch provides a steady concentration of nicotine while gum, lozenges, and other single-dose NRTs can help with break-through cravings.

NRTs have helped many thousands of smokers stop smoking successfully. Just remember that they are not intended for long-term use. Follow the manufacturer's directions exactly, and wean yourself off the NRT product of your choice in the time period suggested.

Recovery Takes Time 

Recovery from this addiction involves learning how to deal with life's ups and downs nicotine-free. If you remain dependent on nicotine, regardless of the form it comes in, you run an increased risk of a smoking relapse. Additionally, as is the case with habit-forming drugs, your tolerance for nicotine will increase over time and so will your intake.

When the right (or wrong) situation presents itself, you may find it's a short jump to lighting up when a piece of nicotine gum isn't handy or just doesn't do the trick in taking the edge off. Stressful situations will continue to trigger the urge for nicotine until you clear it out of your system and learn new ways of coping.

Don't let the unhelpful thinking that comes with nicotine withdrawal convince you to keep using. If you managed to stop smoking, you can go one step further and eliminate your dependence on therapeutic nicotine as well.

Tips for Quitting Nicotine

Work out a realistic plan to wean yourself off of nicotine gum. Some steps that you can take to reduce your dependence:

  • If you're chewing two or three pieces of nicotine gum per day, start by eliminating just one piece.
  • If there are specific times of the day that you use the gum, e.g. first thing in the morning, after meals, etc, choose the one that is the easiest to let go.
  • Substitute a piece of sugar-free gum or a snack instead, and have a plan for a distracting activity should you need it.

Once you are comfortable with the new regimen, repeat the process with the second piece of nicotine gum and then the third until you are off of it completely.

It doesn't matter how much time (within reason) that you take between each elimination. Step down when you are feeling comfortable, always keep your goal in mind.

Find Support

Ask for support, and the load you're bearing will become much lighter. You'll be surprised at how understanding folks are. Don't feel ashamed. You are not the first person who has ever had this problem—far from it.

You deserve a life that is free of nicotine addiction. Believe in yourself—you are strong enough to get nicotine out of your body and out of your life.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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