Smokers who want to stop smoking may consider varenicline (Chantix). Find out if this stop-smoking drug is right for you.
Cigarette smokers who want to quit have several medications to choose from to help in their effort to stop smoking. Chantix works by blocking the effect that nicotine has on your brain. Chantix may make it easier for you to stop smoking. To be successful, you still need persistence and commitment to your goal.
How is Chantix different from other stop-smoking aids?
When you smoke, the nicotine from your cigarette causes receptors in your brain to release several chemicals, including dopamine, which cause many of the positive feelings you get when you smoke. When you quit smoking, the lower levels of these chemicals cause the sometimes miserable signs and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Signs and symptoms such as irritability, insomnia and difficulty concentrating begin four to six hours after your last cigarette and can last a month or more after you quit smoking.
Nicotine replacement products, including the patch, gum and lozenges, and bupropion (Zyban), can help you stop smoking, in part, by continuing to stimulate the release of low levels of dopamine and other chemicals in your brain. In this way, these stop-smoking medications decrease your craving for nicotine and reduce the signs and symptoms of withdrawal.
Chantix works in this way, too. Chantix stimulates the release of low levels of dopamine and other chemicals in your brain to help reduce the signs and symptoms of withdrawal. In addition, Chantix blocks nicotine receptors in your brain. So if you lapse and have a cigarette, your cigarette doesn't stimulate your brain's receptors the way it did in the past. Cigarettes become much less pleasurable, and your desire to return to regular smoking again may be reduced.
How do you take Chantix?
For best results, it's recommended that you start taking Chantix a week before your quit date. Doctors prescribe the pill for 12 weeks ó once a day at first, then twice a day. Gradually increasing the dose helps reduce the chance of side effects. If you've remained smoke-free after 12 weeks, your doctor may consider prescribing an additional 12 weeks of Chantix to improve your chances of remaining smoke-free.
Note: Be sure to tell your doctor about any history of psychiatric illness before taking Chantix. Chantix may worsen a psychiatric illness even if it's currently under control. It may also cause an old psychiatric illness to recur.
Does Chantix work?
While only a few studies have been performed, results show Chantix works better than a sugar pill (placebo) at helping smokers quit. Researchers found more people were able to remain smoke-free with Chantix. Participants reported reduced withdrawal signs and symptoms and reduced pleasure from smoking. In addition to medication, participants in the studies also received weekly counseling to help them quit.
Treatment with Chantix for 12 weeks also appears to work better than bupropion, though longer term results have been mixed. One study found that Chantix worked better than bupropion for the first 24 weeks. Another study found Chantix worked better than bupropion or a placebo for up to a year after participants quit smoking. In addition, researchers have found that Chantix was more effective than the nicotine patch in helping smokers stop smoking.
Chantix hasn't been compared with other nicotine replacement products, such as the nicotine nasal spray, lozenge or gum, in research studies.
While these results sound promising, keep in mind that the majority of participants taking Chantix in studies didn't quit smoking. About 44 percent remained smoke-free for the first 12 weeks of the studies. The percentage of smokers who were smoke-free a year after quitting with Chantix was about 23 percent in the largest clinical trials.
It's also important to remember that the people participating in these research studies received counseling from trained health professionals in addition to medication. Such counseling improves the likelihood of quitting smoking over just taking medication.
What side effects have been reported with Chantix?
Participants in clinical trials reported side effects, including:
- Vivid, abnormal dreams
- Changes in the way food tastes
Most side effects may lessen as your body adjusts to the medication and the withdrawal of nicotine. Taking Chantix after eating and with a full glass of water may reduce the risk of nausea.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory in 2008 that health care professionals, those taking Chantix, and the families of those taking Chantix should be alert to and monitor for changes in mood and behavior in people taking Chantix. Signs and symptoms may include anxiety, nervousness, tension, depressed mood, unusual behaviors, and thinking about or attempting suicide. To date, no evidence of a direct connection between taking varenicline and these symptoms has been shown. However, if you're taking the medication, you and your family need to remain alert for these signs and symptoms. People taking Chantix should report changes in mood and behavior to their doctor immediately.
The FDA also advises that people taking Chantix may experience impaired ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. Because of this the Federal Aviation Administration has added Chantix to its list of prohibited drugs for pilots and air-traffic controllers.
Don't take Chantix if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, or if you're breast-feeding. Chantix hasn't been studied in these situations, so it isn't clear if it's safe for these women.
People with kidney problems and those on dialysis may need to have a lower dose of Chantix, so discuss this with your doctor.
Quitting smoking may alter the effects of certain medications and supplements on your body. Tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you're taking, especially if you're taking asthma medicines or blood thinners.
Should you consider Chantix?
For your best chance at quitting smoking with Chantix, you must be committed to your goal. Chantix and other stop-smoking aids do increase the likelihood that you'll quit smoking, but they don't make quitting easy. Most smokers try many times to quit. Most try many different medications and other strategies, such as counseling, before they finally succeed. Counseling can play a key role in your effort to stop smoking. Telephone quit lines have been shown to provide effective counseling for those trying to quit smoking and are provided as a free service in every state in the United States. Calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) will connect you with a telephone counselor in your state.
Quitting smoking is very difficult and requires planning and persistence, but it can be done. Talk to your doctor about your many options for quitting smoking, including counseling. Together you can decide what stop-smoking medication or strategy might be best for you.