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How to curb your dependence on nicotine

The pharmacy at Frankston Hospital, where pharmacist Darshana Meanger assists patients with curbing their dependence on nicotine.

Darshana Meanger knows what it takes to help smokers quit.

The Peninsula Health pharmacist regularly helps people, of all ages, who are dependent on  nicotine – the feel-good chemical found in tobacco.

“The nicotine is what draws people back to the cigarettes most of the time,” says Darshana

“A major factor of being addicted to smoking is also around the behavioural aspects that smokers develop over time, so using nicotine replacement therapy to help with the cravings, along with behavioural support like Quitline, has been proven to help people quit successfully.”

Every year on May 31, World No Tobacco Day highlights the health and other risks related to tobacco use.

Smokers are also encouraged to start their quit journey or not smoke for 24 hours.

Carcinogens found in tobacco can lead to the development of smoking-related diseases, such as lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Tobacco also contains nicotine, a drug as addictive as alcohol and morphine.

For many, quitting will mean overcoming a dependence on this drug. Nicotine is a main ingredient in tobacco products such as cigarettes, and consumed through smoking or vaping.

“Nicotine is what causes the release of the chemical dopamine in the human brain,” says Darshana.

“Like many drugs, dopamine effectively teaches the brain to repeat the same behaviour – in this case reaching for a cigarette – over and over.”

During the early stages of their quit journey, smokers are highly likely to develop nicotine withdrawals. Symptoms can peak in just a handful of days.

These are temporary physical and emotional symptoms, which slowly decrease over time as the amount of nicotine in the body decreases.

“Usually, if you’re smoking more than ten cigarettes a day is generally when you would be requiring nicotine replacement therapy to help you quit,” says Darshana. “Heavier dependency is generally seen in smokers who reach for a cigarette within the first 30 minutes of waking up.”

“Without nicotine replacement therapy to suppress withdrawal symptoms, a smoker on their quit journey can expect to feel strong cravings, irritability, poor concentration and sleeplessness.”

There are several proven treatment options available for nicotine withdrawal. These include over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy (gum, patches, lozenges, inhalator and spray) and other prescription smoking cessation medications available through your GP.

“We do encourage smokers to get support from their GP or community pharmacist to ensure that they are on the right dose of nicotine replacement therapy and have the right support services to help them quit successfully.”

For more information about how you can get access to Nicotine Replacement Therapy, contact Access Peninsula Health on 1300 665 781.

You can also call the Quitline on 13 7848 between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday.