Medications to Help Stop Smoking

What kinds of medications can help a person stop smoking?

There are many good reasons to quit smoking, but it is very important for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to stop smoking as soon as they can. Smoking cessation is the number one thing that a person can do to slow the progression of COPD.1,2

By quitting smoking, patients can:

  • Have better control over the symptoms of COPD
  • Slow down the rate at which the disease progresses
  • Improve their quality of life
  • Decrease their risk of other conditions, including heart disease and lung cancer2

Two types of medications can help a person to stop smoking and make them more likely to quit for good. These are called:

    • Nicotine replacement products
    • Smoking cessation medications, available only by prescription1

By using nicotine replacement products and/or smoking cessation medications, people are much more likely to be successful in quitting smoking.2

What are nicotine replacement products, and how do they work?

A chemical called nicotine in tobacco smoke is what makes smoking so addictive. When people quit smoking “cold-turkey” all at once, their bodies crave the nicotine that they used to get from smoking. This craving is called a withdrawal symptom. Withdrawal symptoms from nicotine are a major part of what makes it so hard for many smokers to quit.1,3

Nicotine replacement products work by delivering small amounts of nicotine into a person’s body. This can:

  • Reduce cigarette cravings
  • Help people gradually get used to having smaller amounts of nicotine in their bodies
  • Improve the success of quitting tobacco1,3

The benefit is that the nicotine is delivered without the many harmful and dangerous effects of tobacco smoke. Nicotine replacement products help people get used to having smaller and smaller amounts of nicotine in their bodies, and eventually none at all. However, nicotine replacement products are not suitable for people with certain kinds of heart conditions, untreated ulcers, recent heart attacks, or strokes.1,3

What kinds of nicotine replacement products are there?

Nicotine replacement therapy comes in several forms, including chewing gum, patches to be worn on the skin, and lozenges, which are available over-the-counter. Prescription nicotine replacement therapy options include nasal sprays and an inhaler.1,3

E-cigarettes are increasingly being used as a form of nicotine replacement therapy. However, their safety and effectiveness is still controversial and not well defined.1

How can prescription medications help a person stop smoking?

Other types of medicines can help people stop smoking without actually delivering any nicotine into the body. Studies have shown that these medicines can make people more likely to quit smoking long-term. These include:

  • Chantix® (varenicline)
  • Zyban® (bupropion)1,4

Chantix works by weakly mimicking the effects of nicotine in the body. This can help decrease the urge to smoke, and make smoking feel less pleasurable. Chantix is generally taken twice daily for 12 weeks, although some people may have their prescription extended. Common side effects with Chantix include nausea, unusual or strange dreams, constipation, gas, and vomiting. Some people experience new or worsening mental health problems with Chantix, which may include aggression, agitation, depression, or suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Any of these symptoms should be reported to a healthcare professional immediately.4,5

Zyban contains an antidepressant medication that has been shown to reduce the cravings and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It is generally taken once or twice a day for 7-12 weeks. Zyban should not be used by anyone who has a history of seizures, heavy alcohol use, cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), a serious head injury, bipolar disorder, or eating disorders. Common side effects with Zyban include difficulty sleeping (insomnia), dry mouth, dizziness, anxiety, nausea, constipation, stuffy or runny nose, and joint aches. Zyban may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, particularly in young people.4,6

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Written by: Anna Nicholson and Emily Downward | Last reviewed: April 2018.