Quit Smoking Medications – What are They and Are They Really Effective?

Removing cigarettes entirely from the equation is the goal, however, the method you choose may have a lasting impact. Choosing the right method for you does not always entail using anti-psychotics, or other prescription medications.

doctor is putting nicotine patch on patient's arm

With the dangers of smoking finally in the forefront, more and more people are making the decision to quit. While the health benefits of quitting are numerous, giving up cigarettes can be easier said than done. Nicotine withdrawals can lead to many symptoms, including anxiety, mood swings, and sometimes intense cravings.

To combat these symptoms, prescription medications have been developed to help. While they may be beneficial for many smokers, there are pros and cons to consider before talking to your doctor.

Types of Quit Smoking Medications

There are several types of medications given to smokers who wish to quit. Some use nicotine in order to slowly wean patients off the drug, while others do not. Other medications are normally used as anti-depressants, but have shown promise in helping smokers quit. Others still, are given solely as stop smoking aids.

Nicotine Replacement Therapies

Nicotine replacement therapies used most commonly include patches and gum. These are often available without a prescription, although it is still recommended that you speak with a doctor before buying them. Other nicotine replacement products still require a doctor’s visit. These may include nicotine lozenges, inhalers, and nasal sprays. The idea behind these drugs is that nicotine is supplied in controlled amounts, and then slowly lowered to reduce dependency without the nicotine withdrawals common with quitting cold turkey.

Bupropion (Zyban)

Although originally prescribed in 1985 with the name Wellbutrin® for the treatment of clinical depression, bupropion hydrochloride has been FDA approved under the name Zyban® to assist smokers in their effort to kick the habit since 1997. The effect on a smoker is not the same as the effect on a patient with depression. The oral tablet, taken daily, is thought to decrease a smoker’s cravings for nicotine while also easing withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine addiction. It is intended for adults who smoke 10 or more cigarettes per day.

What Zyban Does

It is not known precisely how Zyban works in the body as part of a smoking cessation program. It is not a nicotine replacement therapy like the patch or gum, but may be used in combination with one. Zyban eases symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal like agitation, tobacco cravings, anxiety, concentration problems, and mood swings. It is usually taken for approximately 12 weeks, but may be prescribed for as long as a year in some cases. A smoker begins taking this medication before they quit, typically one or two weeks prior. This allows the medication to reach an optimal level in the patient’s system before quitting completely.

Possible Side Effects

The most common side effects are dry mouth and trouble sleeping. In roughly 70% of patients, these minor side effects will dissipate within about a week of the introduction to their new medication. About 10% of patients will experience one or more of the following side effects: anxiety, constipation, dizziness, skin irritation, or tremors. Approximately 10% of patients prescribed Zyban will need to discontinue its use due to excessively bothersome or possibly dangerous side effects. Bupropion, the active ingredient in Zyban, also can cause seizures in patients with a history of seizure disorders.

Other drugs like Chantix

Other drugs have also been released which claim to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These affect brain chemicals as well by making receptors less sensitive to the effects of nicotine. One common example of this form is the name brand drug Chantix.

A doctor will need to determine which drug, if any, is most appropriate for each individual. Some medications, such as nicotine replacement therapies and oral medications, may be combined.

Pros and Cons of Prescription Quit Smoking Medications

Like with any medication, smoking cessation drugs have benefits as well as drawbacks. The primary benefit is that they have been shown to increase one’s ability to stop smoking. Individual results will vary, and there is no one drug that will work for everyone.

There are some drawbacks to prescription medications as well, as they can have side effects of their own. Chantix, for instance, may cause mood swings, insomnia, mental disturbances, and hallucinations. It is not recommended for those with certain anxiety and other mental health disorders. Since smoking is more common among the mentally ill according to the American Psychological Association, this is a serious drawback for many patients.

Anti-depressants may also cause some side effects, such as dry mouth and seizures in some individuals. Those with seizure disorders are generally encouraged to avoid these medications.

Another drawback to prescription quit smoking medications is the cost. Many are expensive, especially for patients who do not have insurance. The medications require an investment, but gaining a prescription requires doctor’s visit as well. Sometimes more than one medication may be needed, which will incur additional costs.

It should be noted, however, that the medical costs related to smoking cessation therapies are much lower than those one could expect to pay for lung cancer, heart disease, or treatments for other smoking-related illnesses.

Making the Decision

It is up to every patient to decide with their doctor which smoking cessation method is right for them. Whether using a prescription medication, or an over the counter method such as patches, the important thing is that cigarettes are removed from the equation entirely.

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