Smoking cessation medications have been empirically shown to aid in the fight against nicotine addiction. With a number of medications and products already recognized by the FDA to be both safe and effective, considering these treatments could help you achieve full remission. Read on to find out more about your available options.
Smoking dependence, also known as tobacco or nicotine addiction, is understood to be the compulsion to inhale the stimulant nicotine, abundantly found in the tobacco plant, whose dried leaves are used to produce cigarettes and cigars. By inhaling its smoke, the nicotine within tobacco binds with the brain’s nicotinic cholinergic receptors, thereby releasing acetylcholine.
A mood-elevating neurotransmitter, acetylcholine causes a pleasurable sensation when you smoke. With repeated use, smoking creates a physical dependence, whereby the smoker begins to feel agitation unless they increase the smoking intake. Over time, their increased rate of smoking is established as the basis for nicotine addiction.
Research on smoking risk factors also points to a genetic predisposition that increases the chance of developing nicotine addiction. As such, the genetic makeup of certain individuals makes them likelier than others to become addicted to smoking.
Finally, social pressure has been shown to play an important role in causing individuals to begin, continue, and become addicted to smoking. Nearly nine out of ten smokers begin smoking while in adolescence, as they search for acceptance among their peers. Due to this initial context, many of them associate smoking with being part of a group and develop nicotine dependence as a result of their wish to belong.
Tobacco addiction is a worldwide cause for concern, with 13.7% of adults considered to be smokers. Men smoke at a slightly higher rate than women (15.6% vs. 12.0%, respectively), with 45 million Americans considered smoking addicts.
The high percentage of smokers is centrally related to the addictive nature of tobacco. About one-third of all individuals who even try smoking eventually become daily users, with only 7% of those who try to quit managing to achieve smoking cessation.
What makes smoking cessation so difficult to attain is the adverse nicotine withdrawal process, which many find extremely hard to withstand. Among its more common symptoms, nicotine withdrawal can include irritability, anxiety, an increase in appetite, and insomnia.
Roughly eight 8 million deaths a year are due to tobacco addiction. It has been shown to significantly increase the chances of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung disorders, diabetes, and other major health issues.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a succinct list of medications approved to treat smoking cessation. It includes only two entries: Chantix and Zyban. Both are provided with a prescription only. As with all types of medication, it is recommended you consult with your doctor before beginning treatment.
Chantix (generic name: varenicline tartrate) reduces the rewarding effects of nicotine by targeting its binding sites in the brain. Its more common side effects are constipation, sleep disturbances, and vomiting. It may also affect one’s reaction to alcohol. It is not recommended for patients under the age of 18.
Zyban (generic name: bupropion hydrochloride) is another FDA-approved smoking cessation medication, whose exact modus operandi is yet unknown. That said, the FDA has concluded it is safe and effective to facilitate smoking cessation. Zyban contains the same active ingredient as the antidepressant Wellbutrin, so those taking it may experience similar side effects, such as insomnia or dry mouth
Another treatment recognized by the FDA for its smoking cessation benefits is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This non-invasive medical device treatment utilizes electromagnetic fields to safely and effectively regulate the neural activity of structures found to take part in the brain’s smoking addiction mechanism.
There are currently two types of TMS devices on the market: Deep TMS and traditional TMS. Of the two, only Deep TMS has been FDA-cleared as a smoking cessation treatment option.
Deep TMS relies on its own patented H-Coil technology to facilitate smoking cessation. The H-Coil is held inside a cushioned helmet which is fitted onto the patient’s head. This allows its electromagnetic fields to simultaneously reach wider areas of the brain, avoiding targeting issues that sometimes arise with traditional TMS. Deep TMS also manages to reach deeper areas of the brain directly, which has been shown to further increase the treatment’s response rate.
A further advantage of Deep TMS (and TMS in general) is that it usually does not cause any long-lasting or significant side effects, the most common one being a local, passing headache during the first few treatment sessions.
As a non-invasive treatment option, TMS can also be incorporated with other forms of therapy, such as medication. Since it does not require the use of anesthesia, sessions are not followed by any recovery period, and can be added to one’s daily schedule.
The FDA also notes three types of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which provide the brain with smaller doses of nicotine to curb nicotine withdrawal symptoms in an effort to successfully achieve cessation. These include: skin patches, tobacco chewing gum, and lozenges.
Available over the counter or via prescription, all three of the above options have a slow-release mechanism of a specific amount of nicotine. As the body gets used to these smaller doses gradually, individuals using these products feel less of an urge to use nicotine as part of the withdrawal process. Nicotine replacement therapy products are generally recommended for a short amount of time, with certain over-the-counter products not recommended for individuals under 18.