Smokers: Should you Take Chantix?

Smoking is one of the world’s biggest health threats. People who smoke die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, but any smoker knows, quitting is extremely difficult. Most former-smokers tried to stop smoking many times before they actually quit for good. Many smokers are never able to stop.

Chantix or Champix are brand names for Varenicline, a drug that has helped many people stop smoking. If you’re thinking about trying Chantix, consider the many risks first. Some problems associated with Chantix are relatively minor, but others may be life-threatening.

How Does Chantix Work?

Smoking, like use of drugs or alcohol, causes the brain to be flooded with dopamine, commonly known as a “feel good” chemical. The good feelings don’t last and the smoker is left with a craving for another cigarette when the level of dopamine drops. This is the beginning of abuse, dependence and addiction.

Chantix adheres to the nicotine receptors in the brain and causes dopamine to be released in much smaller amounts. There’s no guarantee, however, that Chantix will work. Smokers may still have an urge to smoke, and may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, irritability and anger, although hopefully at more manageable levels.

The stop-smoking medication must be prescribed by a physician, and it is usually taken for three to six months. The makers of Chantix claim a 44 percent success rate, but this high number apparently only holds true after about four months, when the medication is still present in the body.

One study indicates that only one in seven users is still smoke-free after seven months. Another study, published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, indicated that only 14 percent of Chantix users are still not smoking after six months.

What are the Possible Adverse Affects?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning that Chantix is linked to depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and changes in behavior, including hostility, aggression and thoughts of harming others.

Not all adverse affects are common, but users should be aware there is a possibility of:

  • Vivid, frightening dreams

  • Severe skin reactions

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Fainting

  • Constipation

  • Stomach pain and bleeding in stomach or intestines

  • Changes in appetite

  • Dry mouth

  • Insomnia

  • Swelling of face, mouth, tongue, throat and lips

  • Chest pain and heart attack

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Kidney stones or sudden kidney failure

  • Stroke

  • Seizures

Balancing the Risk

Chantix may not be worth the risk if you have a history of depression or other mental health problems. It may also be ill-advised if you have had seizures in the past, or if you are prone to heart or kidney problems

It can be dangerous to drink while using Chantix, as the medication can lower your tolerance to alcohol. If you drink, it’s critical that you stop or at least cut down, as the combination may significantly increase the risk of adverse effects.

Drug and alcohol counseling and stop-smoking support programs have proven to be effective for many smokers. Many health care providers advise that Chantix should be used only as a last resort when counseling, patches, gum, or other means of stopping haven’t worked.

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