Chantix Review – Helpful or Dangerous?
What is Chantix
Approved by FDA in May, 2006 as a smoking cessation aid, Chantix is a nicotine antagonistic drug (Varenicline Tartrate). Manufactured by the pharmacy giant Pfizer, the drug has been proven to be more effective than nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as nicotine patches and gums, as well as other drugs to help kick nicotine addiction.
Chantix is a prescription tablet, taken orally. In most cases, it is recommended that the patient takes Chantix for 12 weeks as a part of a stop-smoking plan. For best results, Chantix also offers an exclusive GetQuit Plan to provide support and follow-up throughout the quitting process. Many studies have also shown that combining prescription stop smoking aids with counseling increase the rate of smokers that remain cigarette abstinent for longer than a year. Many health insurance plans now cover Chantix and other prescription smoking cessation aids, easing the burden of cost.
How Does Chantix Work
To understand how Chantix works, let’s first see how nicotine addiction works:
When the user takes nicotine, it instantly gets absorbed by the blood and is transported to almost all the organs of the body. The biggest impact it has is on the brain, as it acts as a stimulant to make the brain release neurotransmitter dopamine and create a happy “buzz” that gives the user a pleasurable feeling of high, which doesn’t last long. In other words, nicotine activates a reward pathway in brain circuitry by the release of dopamine. Moreover, the human body is resistant to nicotine. Nicotine user wants to enjoy the feeling of high again and again, but as the body gets used to nicotine, higher amount and frequency is required to achieve the desired sensation.
Long-term use of nicotine, with repeated cycles of reward response, gradually leads to addiction. Extreme withdrawal symptoms can ensue when your body stops getting nicotine. Once you get addicted to nicotine, it becomes extremely hard to kick. In fact, many health experts consider it to be more addictive than heroin and cocaine. While nicotine is the addictive compound in the tobacco products, but it’s accompanied by countless other harmful chemicals such as tar and hundreds of carcinogens. This is where you need certain aid to get you nicotine fix without the hazardous chemicals.
What really makes Chantix effective is its two-pronged strategy to help you gradually kick your addiction. Firstly, it offers your brain a nicotine-like relief by stimulating nicotine receptors just like cigarettes do, so that your body can cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Secondly, it decreases the pleasurable effects of the buzz or high by cutting down the reward response pathways. This makes your endeavor to smoking cessation extremely easy as you’ll neither have to deal with the withdrawals nor will lighting up a cigarette feel as good as it used to be because of the roadblocks by Chantix.
Chantix Success Rate
According to a study conducted by Pfizer, Chantix has a 44% success rate. According to the study, 44% of the subjects were abstinent by week 12 of the study, while only 18% of the placebo (sugar pills) users were abstinent. Talking impartially, this number is highly exaggerated as the subjects followed a 12-week cessation program and, at the time these stats were gathered, were still under the influence of the drug. After one year, the number dropped to about 25% of the subjects still abstinent, while the number was only 10% for the placebo patients.
These numbers might still seem impressing, but we are missing something very important here, and that’s the effective and ongoing counseling or support that the subjects were getting. Once we take these support programs out of the equation, the number will surely drop further down from 25%. And let’s not forget that the thing every nicotine addict hates the most is quitting programs and professional face-to-face counseling.
So, unless there’s the usually unwanted support along with the drug, we might not be able to figure out the exact number in terms of Chantix’s success rate, however, it’s definitely more effective than most other smoking cessation aids as all the studies conducted for other products also involve some sort of counseling/support. Still, Chantix is not a magic pill, and should not be looked to as such. The purpose of Chantix is to ease the withdrawal symptoms in order to break the physical addiction, but the behavioral addiction must also be addressed in order to maintain a long-term tobacco-free status.
How to Take Chantix (Chantix Dosage)
Since your doctor will prescribe Chantix, the dosage will be specified by him/her. All you have to do is make sure you take exactly as they specified. Don’t take higher or lower amounts, or for longer than your doctor has recommended.
Varenicline doesn’t contain nicotine, so you can take it while you’re actively smoking. In fact, we have found a particular strategy to be more successful when you want to quit smoking with Chantix. To make it easy for you, here are the exact steps you should take:
- Set a quit date, at least one week and at most two weeks from the day you want to start taking the Chantix (Varenicline) pills.
- Your doctor will specify the dose you should take. You will need to start with small doses, and gradually increase over the next few days.
- Take the pill with a glass of water, about half an hour after eating your meal.
- STOP taking nicotine on your quit day.
- Keep taking your pills regularly.
- In case you’re about to run out of medicine, get a refill to ensure you don’t skip a single day.
- Keep in touch with your doctor, especially if you experience any severe side effects
How much Chantix costs will depend on several factors, like where you live, the pharmacy you get your medicine from, your insurance and so on. However, there is one thing for certain about Chantix that it’s expensive as compared to any other nicotine cessation aid because it’s protected by patents and no cost-effect generic version of Varenicline is available on the market.
Most insurance companies cover Chantix, so if you have insurance, you’ll be shelling out a small copayment. Otherwise, it can cost you $300, or even more, for a 30-day supply. The only thing you can do to get the best bang for your buck is shop around.
Chantix Side Effects
Nausea seems to be the most prevalent side effect of Chantix, followed by sleep disturbance, constipation, gas, and vomiting. Any patient beginning a new prescription should make the prescribing doctor aware of any known health conditions, but patients with heart or blood vessel disease are particularly vulnerable. Any other stop smoking aids should also be discussed with a doctor prior to starting Chantix.
IMPORTANT ADVERSE HEALTH RISKS:
It has been reported that patients taking Chantix have developed serious mental health changes. These changes occurred in early use, after several weeks of taking it, and even after use was terminated. Some of the following changes were noted, but check with Chantix, your doctor, or a pharmacist for the full listing.
- Behavioral Changes
- Suicidal Thoughts and Actions
Patients with a history of any type of mental health problem like depression should offer full disclosure to their doctor regarding it. In addition, the patient, caretaker, and friends and family should be on the lookout for the onset or aggravation of any of the above-listed symptoms, or of any other mental health or behavioral changes.
Why Side Effects Occur?
There may or may not be an apparent reason for the side effects of Chantix to appear. The biggest reason of side effects from Chantix is usually an existing physical condition the user has. The ingredients of the drug can worsen the condition or result in other physical issues. FDA recommends taking one tablet of 0.5 mg for the first three days, followed by two 0.5 mg tablets for the next 4 days, and then 1 mg tablet twice a day for the rest of the period your treatment continues (which is usually 12 weeks). The other major cause of Chantix side effects is taking a higher dose or taking it for longer than the recommended length of time.
When taking Chantix, it’s recommended not to drink alcoholic drinks or at least minimize your consumption, because these two usually don’t get along fine. Likewise, if you are taking any other medication regularly, Varenicline can have a chemical reaction and cause adverse effects.
Are These Really Chantix Side Effects?
Whether you try to quit smoking with Chantix, any other nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), or without any aid, there are always certain side effects because of the withdrawal caused by a sudden cut in the regular supply of nicotine. Therefore, sometimes these side effects can be confused with side effects of Chantix. You may suffer depression, trouble sleeping, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and frustration when you stop taking nicotine, but the same effects are also attributed to Chantix. So, at times it can be difficult to tell the actual cause behind these side effects.
Common Side Effects of Chantix:
The most commonly observed side effects of Chantix include nausea, vomiting, gas, constipation, weakness, indigestion, sleep disturbance or even insomnia, dry mouth, weakness, headaches, stomach pain, feeling sad or empty, restlessness, loss of interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy, depression, aggression, frustration, irregular heartbeat, and unusual dreams.
Side effects included on the package insert/label/medication guide are:
- Neuropsychiatric and Suicidal Symptoms
- Angioedema and Hypersensitivity Reactions
- Cardio Vascular Events
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Accidental Injuries
Doctors do not prescribe Chantix and sometimes patients stop taking Chantix followin these side effects.
Over 2,300 complaints pending against Pfizer.
Some of these side effects may persist for up to several months, even when you stop taking Chantix.
Uncommon Side Effects of Chantix:
The rare side effects include seizures, behavioral changes, difficulty in breathing, hyperventilation, tightness in the chest, suicidal thoughts, fever, cough, chills, itching or skin rash, loss of appetite, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy nose, loss of voice, and hallucination.
Severe Side Effects of Chantix that Need Emergency Medical Help
Consider getting immediate medical help, if you experience any of these side effects: skin rash, difficulty breathing, swelling of your face, tongue or lips, hyperventilation, extremely high heartbeat, blood in urine or stool, sudden severe headache, fever, sudden numbness of some body parts, and tightness in the chest.
As soon as you feel any of these effects, stop taking the pills and call your doctor right away.
Side Effects from Chantix for Pregnant/Lactating Women
Currently, we don’t have any enough adequate data or studies on whether pregnant women are at a greater risk by using Chantix or not, or whether it has the potential to secrete in breast milk. As a matter of fact, most people quit smoking or taking nicotine when they are about to become parents, you doctor might still warrant you to use the drug despite the potential risks or they might suggest an alternate aid for cessation.
How to Minimize the Risk of Chantix Side Effects
If you plan on using Chantix, you should have an in-depth discussion about it with your doctor. As we mentioned earlier that people who have any kind of physical disorder are more prone to suffering Chantix adverse effects, so if you have any of these conditions, offer your doctor a full disclosure before you embark on your cessation journey: history of seizures, kidney problems, kidney dialysis, alcohol addiction, heart diseases, blood vessel disorders, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or any mental issue you have or had in the past.
Remember, Chantix shouldn’t be used if you are under the age of 18. Also, this list does not contain all the possible side effects of Chantix. Every human being is unique and can experience unique side effects depending on their age, physical health, physical issues, and addictions.
Zyban Vs Chantix
While Chantix is the marketing name of Varenicline, Bupropion is marketed under the brand name of Zyban, which is mainly an antidepressant but is also used as a nicotine cessation aid. Just like Chantix it has been approved by FDA and doesn’t contain nicotine, but stimulates hormones in the brain to help cope with nicotine cravings. Since it doesn’t contain nicotine, it can be used with other NRTs or while you’re actively smoking.
Zyban is comparatively affordable but has lower success rate i.e. almost 30% after three months and almost 15% after one year. Just as we mentioned that chances of nicotine abstinence increase when you take Chantix with non-medication aid, Zyban is more effective when your endeavor to quit nicotine is accompanied by some sort of support program.
One particular study was conducted to see how Chantix stacks up against Zyban and placebo (sugar pills). The subjects were given two pills every day for three months. In addition, they were also offered support in the form of reading materials and counseling. The result showed that Chantix was the most effective, with placebo being the least effective. Here are the results of study:
- Chantix success rate: 44%
- Zyban success rate: 30%
- Placebo success rate: 17%
While Zyban and Chantix are two different drugs, they work pretty much the same way and also have nearly the same side effects. No matter which drug you want to use as nicotine cessation aid, make sure you consult with your doctor and offer them comprehensive disclosure of any medical conditions you have. But if we were to pick either Chantix or Zyban, we’ll definitely prefer Chantix because of its higher success rate.