Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Nicotine replacement therapy may ease agitation for hospitalized patients with schizophrenia

As many as eight in 10 people with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes. When they enter a hospital, they often have to stop smoking abruptly and involuntarily.

Withdrawal symptoms may contribute to agitation that makes psychiatric treatment more challenging. Researchers at the University of Colorado and colleagues in Switzerland conducted a pilot study to determine whether nicotine replacement therapy might reduce agitation in patients with schizophrenia who suddenly had to stop smoking during hospitalization.

The researchers recruited 40 hospitalized smokers with schizophrenia and randomly assigned half to receive a 21-mg daily nicotine patch, while the others received a placebo patch. Like other forms of nicotine replacement therapy, a nicotine patch delivers small amounts of nicotine — the addictive component of tobacco — to the bloodstream without the other toxic components of cigarettes. (All participants took antipsychotic medications as well.)

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