Using medicines to help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms

If you’re trying to give up smoking, craving for a cigarette will be part of your withdrawal symptoms. This is because you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. There are various treatments available that can help ease your withdrawal symptoms and reduce the desire to smoke. Using medicines can be an effective way to reduce cravings.

For example, nicotine replacement therapy (NTR) provides your body with nicotine to reduce cravings. Buprion (Zyban®) and Varenicline (Champix®) are non-nicotine tablets that help relieve withdrawal symptoms and stop you wanting a cigarette. Zyban® and Champix® are only available on prescription because they are not suitable for everyone and should not be taken with certain medicines. You should always tell your doctor if you feel depressed or have suicidal thoughts while taking Zyban® or Champix®.

Electronic cigarettes are now available to buy as an alternative to cigarettes. E-cigarettes are regulated by the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) which the producers of e-cigarettes have to meet. There is not enough known yet about the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, compared to other nicotine replacement therapies. But they can be used for a period of time, to help someone stop smoking.

Medicines

It is often the physical craving for a cigarette that causes people to start smoking again. There are lots of different treatments available to help you cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Using medicines to help reduce cravings can double your chances of successfully giving up smoking. And if you also use a stop smoking service, you are up to four times more likely to become a non-smoker. If you are in hospital, you should be able to have these medicines during your stay.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

NRT works by giving your body enough nicotine to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings when you stop smoking. It comes as: 

  • skin patches
  • chewing gum
  • tablets
  • lozenges
  • inhalers
  • mouth sprays
  • nasal sprays. 

You can buy these over the counter at your local pharmacy or get them on prescription from your GP or stop smoking service. Using NRT doubles your chances of stopping smoking.

Varenicline (Champix®)

This is a tablet which does not contain nicotine that can help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms when giving up smoking. Varenicline is only available on prescription. You start taking it as tablets 1 to 2 weeks before you stop smoking. A course of treatment usually lasts for 12 weeks.

Some people feel depressed while taking varenicline. This may be because they are finding it hard to cope with stopping smoking rather than being a side effect of the drug.

It is important to tell your doctor if you feel depressed, anxious or have suicidal thoughts while taking varenicline.

Bupropion (Zyban®)

Bupropion is another tablet which does not contain nicotine. It works by reducing the urge to smoke and helps other withdrawal symptoms. Bupropion is not suitable for everyone and you should not take it if you have had brain or spinal cord tumours, or a history of seizures (fits). You start taking it as tablets 1 to 2 weeks before you stop smoking.

A course usually lasts for 7 to 9 weeks. The tablets are only available on prescription.

Certain medicines should not be taken with bupropion, so it is important that it is prescribed by a doctor who knows your medical history and any other medicines you might be taking. Some people feel depressed while taking bupropion, but this also could be caused by the withdrawal symptoms from stopping smoking. It is important to tell your doctor if you feel depressed, anxious or have suicidal thoughts while taking bupropion.


Possible side effects

Like all medicines, NRT, varenicline and bupropion have possible side effects. It is important to read the information leaflet that comes with these drugs. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you more about these treatments.


Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are now widely available to buy as an alternative to cigarettes. They look very similar to cigarettes and are battery-powered. They contain nicotine, which is inhaled as a vapour. This is called vaping. They are sometimes called vapourisers or electronic nicotine delivery systems.

At the moment, you cannot get e-cigarettes on prescription. E-cigarettes are regulated by the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). This is to make sure that they are safe and that people have accurate information about them. The producers of e-cigarettes must meet the TPD regulations and name all the ingredients used.

The long-term effects of e-cigarettes, compared to other nicotine replacement therapies, are not yet fully known. They are thought to be around 95% safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes. They can be used for a period of time, to help someone stop smoking. Research suggests that some e-cigarettes may be as good at helping someone to stop smoking as nicotine replacement therapies.

In the UK, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18, or for adults to buy them on behalf of someone under 18. 

The best option to quit smoking safely and effectively, is to speak to your GP or local stop smoking service. They will also be able to answer any more questions you have on e-cigarettes. Some people who use e-cigarettes with a stop smoking service can help their chances of quitting smoking.

Back to Giving up smoking

Reasons to quit

Whether you’re living with or after cancer, giving up smoking has important health benefits.

Preparing to stop

Giving up smoking can be challenging. There are several things you can do that will help you quit.

Staying stopped

If you’ve decided to give up smoking, several things can help you stay stopped.