Addicted to Nicotine Gum - Now What?

Cigarette butt and nicotine gum squares, studio shot, close-up
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A reader asks:

I quit smoking 8 months ago, and used nicotine gum to help me do it. I still chew the gum, and am starting to wonder whether I might be addicted to it.  I only chew two or three pieces a day, though. Isn't that a lot better than smoking a pack of cigarettes every day?


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.

Nicotine Can Hurt Your Health

That said, while cigarette smoke is worse than nicotine alone, nicotine is not a harmless drug. 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, Too

While it's true that the amount  of nicotine you're getting daily from the gum is 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.

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 junkie 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.

Stepping Down and Off of Nicotine Completely

Work out a realistic plan to wean yourself off of nicotine gum.

If you're chewing 2 or 3 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 keeping your goal in mind.  

We weren't born using nicotine.  It is possible to leave it behind for good and get on with your life, comfortably addiction-free. 

Don't be afraid to let people know what is going on with you.

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 NRTs Can Be Addictive, Should I Avoid Using Them?

No, but use care with this quit aid.  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.  I recommend it as my top NRT pick for this reason. 

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.

Read more:  Quit Aid Choices on the Market Today 

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