How Is Nicotine Addiction Treated?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.

Question:

If - as you say - “nicotine is just as addictive, more deadly, than cocaine,” where are the centers that treat these nicotine addicts?  Does this mean that chomping on gum and sticking on adhering (nicotine) patches will alleviate the mental and physical distress that accompanies the withdrawal from tobacco?

Answer:

Most inpatient alcohol and other drug treatment centers have a protocol for the treatment of nicotine dependence.  Treatment of nicotine dependence does not require inpatient treatment.  The protocol for dealing with this addiction can be accomplished effectively as an outpatient.

Any physician is capable of providing the medication and the support to help a patient get off the drug and stay off.  First of all, the Fagerstrom Questionnaire is administered to assess the degree of nicotine dependence.  On the basis of this simple assessment the strength (megs/day) of the transdermal nicotine patch can be determined.

The dose of nicotine can be adjusted over a protocol lasting up to 21 days.  The transdermal nicotine patch will greatly relieve the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

During this time the patient must pick a “quit date” at which time his smoking days are over.  Nicotine withdrawal signs and symptoms include irritability, headache, insomnia, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, nausea and diarrhea.  A substitute for the nicotine patch could be a gum, which supplies an amount of nicotine sufficient to allay symptoms of withdrawal.  There is supportive literature to encourage the person who is going through the quitting process.

Most inpatient alcohol and other drug programs, which treat nicotine dependence, are treating alcohol or some other drug dependence as the reason the person is in an inpatient setting.

Nicotine dependence does not require inpatient care.  Motivation to quit must go beyond the generally known statistical information about lung cancer and other issues that are associated with cigarette use.

At the core of beating this addiction has to be the image of one’s self as a nonsmoker and the willingness to go to any length and to bear any discomfort to get there.

In my opinion, quitting “cold turkey” is the most direct and effective way to become a nonsmoker. 

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center’s first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.
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