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Varenicline tartrate, known in some areas by the brand name Chantix®, is a smoking cessation aid. This medication works by decreasing pleasurable associations with smoking to help patients break their dependence. It is taken shortly before the patient quits and continued for several weeks or months. The drug can sometimes be more effective when combined with counseling and other measures to help patients avoid cigarettes.
This medication interacts with nicotine receptors, binding to them to block their stimulation when people smoke. It also interferes with the brain’s internal pleasure and reward process, which plays a key role in dependence on cigarettes. When people smoke, they experience a burst of neurotransmitters that create a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. On varenicline tartrate, this response is muted, making cigarettes less enjoyable over time to break the dependence.
It is not a nicotine replacement drug, but rather interferes with the way the brain processes nicotine. Patients interested in smoking cessation can discuss the different options and their success rates to determine the best choice for their needs. Everyone responds differently; some people may prefer nicotine replacement, while others may prefer treatment with drugs like varenicline tartrate. Counseling to help patients work through the quitting process can also be an extremely important component of treatment, as it can be hard to break a dependence on tobacco products.
Typically dosing starts low and tapers up while the patient starts taking the medication. People continue to smoke for the first week, although they may work on cutting down their habit. At the end of the week, they stop smoking and continue taking varenicline tartrate. Patients who experience a relapse and smoke again have not necessarily failed on treatment if they can get back on track with the treatment program. Counseling may help, especially if a patient feels like giving up after sneaking a cigarette or experiencing strong cravings.
Common side effects of varenicline tartrate can include nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, and headaches. Some patients also experience symptoms in connection with quitting smoking, especially if they have been smoking for a long time, like tremors or difficulty thinking clearly. Serious risks of varenicline tartrate can include changes in mood and behavior such as suicidal thoughts and depression. These should be reported to a medical provider so the patient can get treatment. It may be necessary to stop taking the medication and approach the smoking cessation program from a different angle.