Q & A Library
Hooked on Nicotine Gum?
How do I break my addiction to nicotine gum? I don't want to smoke cigarettes, but I'm hooked on the gum. Any advice?
Answer (Published 4/23/2002)
Nicotine gum can be an effective way to wean yourself away from an addiction to cigarettes. It contains enough nicotine to reduce the urge to smoke by taking the edge off your craving for cigarettes. But you do have to use it correctly to get the full effect, and you shouldn’t chew more than 30 pieces per day or use the gum for more than three months. While considered safe and effective for short-term use, the gum has not been evaluated for longer periods of time.
Ideally, for maximum effectiveness you should not chew the gum for 15 minutes after eating or drinking. You’re supposed to chew it briefly to release the nicotine (you’ll notice a peppery taste or feel a slight tingling in your mouth after about 15 chews) and then "park" the gum between your cheek and gum so that the nicotine can be absorbed into the lining of the cheek. When the peppery taste or tingling diminishes, chew again to release more nicotine. Your need for the drug should gradually diminish allowing you to chew fewer and fewer pieces per day and to stop entirely when you are down to one or two pieces daily.
As you have discovered, the gum itself can be addicting which is why you are not supposed to use it for more than six months. You also can overdose if you chew too much. Symptoms include stomach pain, fuzzy vision, cold sweat, diarrhea, trouble breathing and hearing, dizziness, exhaustion, fainting, headache, low blood pressure, mental confusion, nausea, pallor, fast and irregular pulse, too much saliva, "the shakes" and vomiting. And if you find yourself both smoking and chewing nicotine gum, seek professional help.
If you can’t wean yourself off the gum by slowly cutting back on the amount you chew each day – as you’re supposed to – you could try acupuncture or hypnosis to help you overcome the habit. Since you’re not getting as much nicotine as you would if you were still smoking cigarettes, you shouldn’t find giving up the gum is as difficult as it is to quit smoking.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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