Is the Nicotine Patch a Good Way to Stop Smoking?

Side effects of nicotine patches

Verywell / Cindy Chung

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The nicotine patch is a popular and effective quit smoking aid. Research has found that using a form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as the patch increases a person's chances of successfully quitting by about 50% to 60%.

Due to the health risks of consuming nicotine-containing products, and the high potential for addiction, many people are searching for ways to decrease their use of these products. Nicotine replacement therapy products are a popular choice for decreasing dependence on nicotine. Due to its ease of use and efficacy, the nicotine patch has become one of the most popular NRTs.

The nicotine patch was approved by the FDA in 1991. From 1992 to 1996, the patch was available in the U.S. by prescription only. Since 1996, it has been available over the counter (without a prescription). Other forms of medicinal nicotine products include gum, lozenges, inhalers, and a spray.

This article discusses the efficacy of nicotine patches and some of the benefits they provide. It also covers some of the side effects you might experience and other things to consider when using the nicotine patch.

Is the Nicotine Patch Effective?

The nicotine patch provides a steady, controlled dose of nicotine throughout the day, thereby reducing the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Patch strength is reduced over time, allowing the person to wean themselves off of nicotine gradually.

There are seven first-line medications that consistently have been found to increase long-term abstinence rates: bupropion (Zyban), varenicline (Chantix), nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, nicotine lozenge, nicotine nasal spray, and the nicotine patch. All five NRTs have about the same level of efficacy.

Studies suggest that all types of NRT can be effective for quitting smoking, but the patch with a short-acting NRT produced the best results. The combination of counseling and medication is also more effective than either alone.

Recap

Research suggests that nicotine patches and other types of nicotine replacement therapy are safe and effective when used correctly.

Health Risks of Nicotine Use

Nicotine use is linked to health risks including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and narrowing of the arteries. It is also highly addictive, which is why quitting cigarettes leads to withdrawal symptoms. The use of NRTs such as the patch can help you gradually decrease your nicotine use and minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Tobacco products contain varying levels of nicotine. For example, traditional cigarettes contain 10–20 mg of nicotine, and about 1–2 mg of that is absorbed by your body when you smoke. Juul, the most popular brand of vape, contains 50 mg of nicotine.

Nicotine Patch Dosage

Nicotine patches typically come in three different dosage strengths: 21 mg, 14 mg, and 7 mg. These numbers refer to the amount of nicotine in the product. The 21 mg patch is usually recommended as a starting point for people who smoke a pack of 20 cigarettes or more daily. From there, the person steps down to lower dose patches following package instructions until the final step down to no patch (i.e., no nicotine) at all.

The nicotine patch resembles a square beige or clear bandage. The size depends on the dose and brand but generally is between 1 and 2 inches square. The nicotine patch should be applied once a day to clean, dry, hairless skin. Manufacturers usually recommend wearing the patch between 16 and 24 hours a day, depending on what you're comfortable with.

Recap

When using the patch, people typically begin with a higher dose and then gradually switch to a lower dose over time until they no longer need to use a patch.

Possible Side Effects

Wearing a nicotine patch to bed at night can disrupt sleep and cause vivid dreams. If this becomes a concern, remove the patch before bed and put a fresh one on the next morning.

Some people experience itching, burning, or tingling when they first apply the patch. This side effect usually goes away within an hour and is a result of nicotine coming in contact with the skin.

Some people may experience redness or swelling at the patch site for up to 24 hours. Other symptoms that people can experience when using a nicotine patch include diarrhea, dizziness, headache, upset stomach, or vomiting.

More serious side effects may include abnormal heartbeat or rhythm, difficulty breathing, seizures, severe rash, or swelling.

Be sure to consult a doctor before using the nicotine patch and if any of the above symptoms are severe or do not go away.

Contraindications

You should always talk to a health care provider before using the nicotine patch. Be sure to mention if you have any illness or medical conditions since you should not use the patch if you have certain conditions. Some of these include:

  • Allergies to tapes, bandages, or medicines
  • Chest pains or a recent heart attack
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Skipped or irregular heartbeats
  • Skin rashes or skin diseases
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Thyroid disease

Recap

If you take any other medications or have any health conditions, be sure to check with a doctor before starting the patch, as it can change the way some medicines work.

Smoking While Using the Nicotine Patch

Do not smoke when using nicotine patches or any other NRT as you run the risk of overdosing of nicotine. Some of the signs of a nicotine overdose may include:

  • Bad headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Cold sweats
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness, weakness, or fainting
  • Drooling
  • Hearing problems
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting

If you suspect an overdose, take the patch off and call seek medical attention immediately. Nicotine overdose is rare but can be fatal.

A Word From Verywell

Research suggests that the most effective way to quit smoking is to combine a long-acting nicotine patch with another short-acting type of nicotine replacement therapy such as a lozenge, gum, or nasal spray. Such methods, when used for 12 weeks or longer, significantly increase your chances of quitting nicotine successfully.

While nicotine inhalers are another form of NRT that can be utilized alongside patches, you should avoid the use of e-cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes, which are used for vaping, have been associated with serious lung injuries and all vaping products should be avoided.

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.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.