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Quit Smoking: Therapies and Medications


Smoking is probably one of the most common bad habits to have with a prevalence of 14 per 100 adults in the United States. While smoking may present some personal benefits for the smoker, be it stress relief or social bonding, its health hazards outweigh them by a large margin. For instance, 90% of instances of lung cancer, the most frequent type of disease, are caused by smoking alone. Fortunately, the risk is not irreversible: as the World Health Organization reports, after ten years following smoking cessation, a person’s chances to get cancer drop by 50% (“Fact sheet about health benefits,” n.d.). Moreover, quitting smoking helps to reduce the risk of impotence, pregnancy complications, premature births as well as having babies with low birth weights. Yet, modern medicine recognizes evidence-based practices that are likely to help a person give up on this bad habit and commit to a healthier lifestyle. This paper describes how nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), non-nicotine medications, and behavior therapy are valid ways to quit smoking.

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Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Many people are averted to nicotine replacement medication: they are convinced that they can overcome addiction on their own. Yet, as the statistics have shown, only 6% of these attempts amount to anything (West & Schiffman, 2016). The rest fails, partly due to the underestimation of how powerful nicotine dependence really is. Nicotine replacement therapy reduces the urge to smoke and makes withdrawal symptoms much milder. The latter is especially important given that withdrawal symptoms (insomnia, cough, body aches, mild fever, and others) are what hinder many smokers’ attempts to quit. NRT is designed to supply a person with a limited dose of nicotine while preventing him or her from getting exposed to other chemicals found in tobacco. As of how the Food and Drug Administration has approved the following five types of NRT:

  • Skin patches;
  • Lozenges;
  • Nasal spray;
  • Inhaler;
  • Chewing gum (West & Schiffman, 2016).

It is recommended to discuss the type and dose with a healthcare professional. Smokers should keep in mind that the end goal is not to merely quit the habit but to end the adduction altogether. The aforementioned products have some side effects such as dizziness, weakness, nausea, irregular heartbeat, skin swelling, and vomiting. If one or more symptoms are present, the patient should contact his or her healthcare professional and reconsider the dose.

Non-Nicotine Medications

Some smokers, however, may discover that they do not want to use nicotine replacement treatments. In this case, they can try non-nicotine-containing drugs that help with withdrawal and reduce the urge to smoke. As of now, in the United States, the Food and Drugs Administration has approved two non-nicotine medications: bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) (West & Schiffman, 2016). Bupropion impacts the chemicals in the brain that play a role in nicotine craving. It helps the smoker handle the urges and assuage the symptoms of withdrawal such as sleep disturbances, persistent cough, and flu-like symptoms. Typically, bupropion is taken in tablet form for three months. However, even if a patient manages to gain control over his or her bad habit in a shorter time period, it is still recommended to continue taking medication.

Three to six months is usually enough to reduce the risk of relapsing. Varenicline functions a bit differently: primarily, it interferes with the nicotine receptors in the brain. This results in decreasing the pleasure that the smoker takes in tobacco use. Apart from that, akin to bupropion, varenicline helps to handle withdrawal symptoms. The duration of treatment is 12 weeks; however, if a patient quits smoking in lesser time, he or she is recommended to keep taking the medication to avoid falling into the habit again (West & Schiffman, 2016). Both medications have some side effects that smokers determined to quit should be aware of. Risks include behavioral changes, depressed mood, mood swings, hostility, and suicidal ideation. It is recommended to have a talk with a health provider first to see whether this type of treatment is the most appropriate and to educate oneself on health implications.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Admittedly, quitting smoking is not only about handling the physical side of addiction. Individuals are often drawn to bad habits for emotional reasons. And since thought precedes action, fixing negative thinking patterns may be the answer. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a promising psychological intervention for people who want to quit smoking but struggle to do so on their own. This type of therapy aims at changing and restructuring thought processes related to smoking as well as learning new, healthier behaviors. Specific techniques include:

  • Customized problem-solving strategies to help to handle difficult environments and situations. Every smoker has his or her own triggers such as places or social circles where they usually smoke. A good strategy helps a smoker to avoid temptation and stay committed to the treatment plan. What should also be considered is identifying social and environmental cues. For instance, if a person is used to smoking a cigarette when drinking beer, he or she might want to abstain from drinking this exact beverage for some time;
  • Changing thinking patterns. More often than not, smokers get stuck in negative thinking loops. The good news is that thoughts are controllable: for instance, “I need to smoke” can be turned into “I need to relax.” From there, a patient can take control over the course of action and choose to engage in a healthier behavior;
  • Self-education. Overcoming addiction requires an individual to become a learner and educate him- or herself on the particularities of the process. Relevant information will help a person to track his or her progress as well as discern normal feelings and sensations from those that need to be addressed. Moreover, education removes uncertainty, and a patient may start feeling more confident, which definitely helps;
  • Social support. It is recommended that a smoker determined to quit scans his or her environment to identify those people or social groups who could potentially provide support. Handling an addiction may be emotionally draining, so a well-timed piece of advice or emotional validation may be just what a person needs;
  • Aversion therapy. This technique emphasizes the health hazards of smoking, therefore, discouraging a person to engage in this harmful behavior (West & Schiffman, 2016).


Overcoming addiction such as smoking is never an easy task – it is something that many attempts to do but fail despite their best efforts. While it is easy to understand the benefits of smoking cessation, taking the first step may still be challenging. Besides, many smokers are bombarded with conflicting information regarding quitting, which may lead to confusion and demotivation. As of now, there are medical and non-medical ways of quitting smoking, and they work best when combined. The medical ways include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and non-nicotine-containing medications. The first type provides a patient with a controlled dose of nicotine, helping him or her to wean off cigarettes. The second type tackles unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that may include sleep disturbances, persistent cough, fever, and others. It may also be a good idea to contact a therapist who will find an appropriate strategy for overcoming the addiction.

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Fact sheet about health benefits of smoking cessation. (n.d.). Web.

West, R., & Shiffman, S. (2016). Fast facts: smoking cessation. Basel, Switzerland: Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers.

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