Medications to Help You Quit

Written by
Dr. Arjun Randhawa
PharmD, RPh, ACPR
DISCLAIMER
Please talk to your healthcare provider if you have any medical questions or concerns. Information presented in the CareGuide articles is only meant for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

What is nicotine dependence?

More than 4.5 million Canadians have nicotine dependence -  a health condition that causes people to continue to use nicotine (smoking, vaping, chewing, etc.) despite the negative health consequences, according to the University of Waterloo. If an individual wants to quit nicotine, it can be difficult due to the frequent cravings caused by the body's dependence to nicotine. 

Medications for quitting smoking

Luckily, there are multiple evidence-based ways to quit nicotine. These include – quitting cold turkey, cognitive behavioural therapy, and medicinal therapies. All of these are effective ways to quit using nicotine; however, medicinal therapies may work best for some individuals. Nicotine-free medicinal options are Bupropion (Zyban) and Varenicline (Champix). Nicotine replacement therapies come in the form of patches, gum, and lozenges. Nicotine-free products help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms by altering how nicotine interacts with the brain. Nicotine replacement therapies work by providing the body with nicotine to help reduce withdrawals and cravings. 

Although these medications work by using different mechanisms, they will help you achieve the goal of becoming nicotine free.  

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Patches

Nicotine Patches work to ease your withdrawal symptoms by replacing some of the nicotine your body was absorbing from cigarettes. When you apply a patch, nicotine passes through your skin into your bloodstream. The patch delivers lower levels of nicotine into your body compared to smoking. However, the dose is high enough to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking.

Gum

Nicotine gum contains nicotine and feels and looks like chewing gum. When you chew the gum, the nicotine begins to slowly release into your mouth. Then you hold the gum in your mouth between your cheek and gums. Cigarette smoke passes nicotine almost instantly into the blood through the lining of the lungs, and the blood takes it to the brain in a few seconds. The nicotine in the gum takes several minutes to reach the brain. This makes the "hit" less rapid with the gum than with a cigarette. Nicotine gum also delivers much less nicotine to your body than a cigarette would.

Lozenges

Nicotine lozenges are one form of nicotine replacement therapy that can be used to help you stop smoking over a period of time. It helps to reduce cravings and feelings of withdrawal by replacing some of the nicotine you would normally get from smoking.

Varenicline (Champix®)

Varenicline (brand name Champix®) is only available by prescription from a doctor. It blocks the effects of nicotine and reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If you start smoking again while taking the medicine, you will not feel as satisfied. This improves your chances of quitting.

Bupropion (Zyban®)

Bupropion (Brand name: Zyban®) is a nicotine-free quit aid. It is only available by prescription from a doctor. Bupropion helps you quit smoking by making it feel less desirable which improves your chances of quitting.

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