Both of the currently available prescription-only smoking cessation medications (Zyban and Champix) are taken in specific stages marked by changes in dosage and the time when the dose is changed. Regardless of the important differences between the two, both treatments will first be introduced with a low dose which is then increased shortly afterwards – usually at the beginning of the second week of treatment, when the user is expected to quit smoking. Finally, the dose will start to get gradually decreased after a number of weeks (depending on the exact treatment used) before eliminating the treatment from the routine.
Following this schedule greatly improves the chances of successfully quitting smoking by helping the body adjust, thus reducing the subjectively experienced effects of nicotine withdrawal. In addition, slowly decreasing the dose after the completion of treatment helps prevent cravings and relapses.
What’s on this page?
Champix is prescribed for use over the period of around three months, starting one week before a date chosen for quitting smoking. The first pack you will use is called a starter pack and it will cover the first week of the treatment. It contains just white 0.5mg tablets which are supposed to be taken once per day for the first three days and then two times per day for the remainder of the first week.
When the second week of treatment begins, you will move on to regular Champix packs containing blue (1mg) tablets. Two 1mg tablets per day will be the usual dose taken for the remaining 11 weeks of the treatment, after which it will be gradually decreased until stopping the treatment altogether. Thus, it is important to never stop taking Champix as you see fit, but only in line with the doctor’s recommendations.
Similarly to Champix, Zyban treatment should also commence at least one week prior to the chosen stop smoking date. Over the course of the first six days of the treatment, you will be taking one tablet per day, while on the seventh day the dose will get increased to two tablets per day, remaining at that level for the remainder of the 9 weeks course. If your smoking cessation efforts don’t bring the desired results, the doctor might recommend stopping taking it.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
Aside from prescription medicines, over-the-counter nicotine replacement products such as transdermal patches, gums, inhalers and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have also been used by many as a smoking cessation aid. Most of these can be used from the day you decide to quit smoking, but some patches and gums do need to be applied beforehand, similarly to prescription medicines.
When using these methods you will still have to be careful not to stop the suddenly or start reducing the amount you use too early in the treatment. Either of these mistakes can lead to more intense cravings and temptation to light it up. So, even though NRTs are available OTC, it is still advisable to consult with a doctor about how to use them in the most efficient way.
NRTs are usually used for two to three months and use longer than that is generally not advised.
What are the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal?
Quitting smoking is far from easy – and not without a good reason. Smoking is an addiction and just like any addiction, it will take a lot of willpower to break it, but also a lot of strength and capacity to deal with the very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Some statistical studies seem to indicate that more than three thirds of active smokers wish to quit, with half of them actually trying at least once each year. However, the success rate is not higher than 3%. Just these numbers testify about the difficulties of giving up cigarettes for good.
The symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can appear as early as just a couple of hours following your last cigarettes and they can be not just very unpleasant, but also extremely difficult to deal with. They include:
- Nicotine cravings
- Problems sleeping
- General malaise
- Increased hunger
Symptoms mentioned here will peak in the first couple of days and will usually begin to improve after two weeks have passed.
Another symptom that people often worry about cannot really be considered “a symptom” in the strict meaning of the term – we are talking about gaining weight, of course. One study, for example, concluded that smokers gain seven kilos on average in the long term, following quitting cigarettes. The study discussed a number of reasons for this:
- Nicotine works as an appetite suppressant that speeds up metabolic processes
- Cigarette smoke is known to diminish the sensitivity of the sense of taste, so food will taste better once you quit
- Many people replace cigarettes with snacks
- Nicotine cravings can be mistaken for hunger
Of course, gaining weight isn’t too good for your health (provided you’re not underweight), but fear of gaining weight should never be considered a valid reason to continue smoking. While gaining a few extra pounds isn’t ideal, you can ramp up your exercise routine, reduce unhealthy and fast food intake and deal with it easily. The same cannot be said for health risks directly linked to smoking, including cancer.
How to deal with nicotine cravings?
Nicotine cravings are the single most common cause of failure of smoking cessation. For some, cravings can manifest as a nagging sensation somewhere in the back of the mind, while for others they can appear suddenly during times of stress or anxiety. The most acute cravings tend to pass rather quickly, within a couple of minutes and there are also treatments that might make them less pronounced. However, without willpower and, ideally, support from those around you, it can be exceptionally difficult to deal with them, regardless of the smoking cessation aids.
There are several things you can do make these cravings a bit easier to cope with:
Change your routine
Smoking is a habit as much as addiction and all smokers tend to associate smoking with certain aspects of their day, for example cigarette after a meal, with morning coffee or while waiting for a bus. Before you know it, these little rituals become something you can easily become attached to.
Being exposed to these same situations can always make the cravings more intensive, so changing your broader routine can be exceptionally helpful in avoiding the temptation and adjusting to your smoke-free life.
Employ various distraction techniques
Many ex-smokers claim that various distraction techniques were the single biggest factor in successfully quitting smoking. Concentrating on things other than cigarettes seem to be a very efficient coping strategy.
Reward yourself for milestones
Whenever you reach a certain smoke-free milestone (for example, one week or one month without smoking), give yourself a small reward. In this way, you will have something to look forward to while going through the hardest periods of nicotine withdrawal.
Don’t forget why you are quitting
It is very beneficial to remind yourself every now and then why you decided to stop smoking in the first place. It might be for the sake of your health, or maybe the health of your children or family. For many, finances can be the first trigger for quitting smoking. When you experience a nicotine craving, try focusing on these reasons.
Change your diet
Naturally, you should never make drastic changes to your diet without consulting a doctor beforehand. However, it is important to keep in mind that certain foods and beverages including alcohol, tea, coffee and meat all make cigarettes taste better, while the opposite is true for dairy products, fruit and vegetables, water and natural juices. This is why introducing healthy habits to your diet can make a contribution to your smoking cessation efforts. In addition to this, healthy snacks will keep your hands and mouth occupied.
Exercise will not only occupy your mind and body, but it will also be helpful in easing stress and reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms to a significant extent. Even when it is not too intensive it is still highly beneficial and it can also be a positive force in preventing weight gain.
Keep your hands busy
Just holding a cigarette in your hand is a very persistent habit, so in order to combat this psychological factor of addiction, you can find something that will occupy your hands like stress toys, drawing or sewing.
Breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness have all been used by some ex-smokers in order to cope with the nicotine withdrawal symptoms. While these approaches won’t work for everyone, if you have been interested in, let’s say yoga, this is a good time to get active.
How long does it take to quit smoking?
There is no definitive answer to this – some ex-smokers managed to quit by simply putting out their last cigarette and never giving in to temptation again. Others struggled for months, even years before succeeding. Numerous personal factors and variables will be of greatest importance here – from the intensity of your habit (how much you smoke) to its duration (for how long have you been smoking). In addition to this, most ex-smokers didn’t quit on their first try, but only after a couple of attempts. Various treatment options might be helpful for you in achieving your goal, but there is no guarantee for that either.
The bottom line is – quitting smoking is, in terms of best methods and the time it will take, almost completely dependent on the individual.