Pill Puts Damper on Smoking

Help kicking the habit could come in the form of a pill. Local doctors are now prescribing a medication that recently won federal approval in helping smokers quit.

Medical experts say smokers have a tough time quitting because lighting up physically lights up their brain. Dr. Eric Voth, an addiction expert at Cotton-O'Neil Clinic in Topeka, says nicotine stimulates dopamine production, giving a person a sense of euphoria and well-being. He says when dopamine is taken away, there's a craving and the brain says it wants more.

Voth says a new drug puts a damper on that physical reaction. It's called Chantix. Unlike patches and gums, which simply give you nicotine in another form, Chantix counteracts what nicotine does. Voth says Chantix increases dopamine levels so a person doesn't have withdrawal and, at the same time, it blocks the effects of nicotine, so if a person does smoke, they don't get the surges in dopamine, which means there's no physical reinforcement for the nicotine use.

In studies, 22-percent of those who used Chantix were still smoke-free a year later. That's better than other methods but obviously still not perfect. Vth says that illustrates the psychological and behavioral components of smoking addiction. He says a person betters their chances of staying smoke free if they also pin-point the behavioral habits that go along with their smoking - for example, when they drink, after they eat a meal, or around certain people. Voth says people need to change those patterns so they don't end up in a situation that could lead to smoking.

Chantix is usually taken twice a day for twelve weeks. It costs about $120 a month. Not many insurances cover it, but Voth says, if you put it in perspective, it works out to almost exactly the same cost as smoking a pack a day. He says if you quit, you'll save cash in the long run, plus lessen the risks of developing health problems that are more likely if you keep smoking.

You can find more information about Chantix at its manufacturer's web site, www.chantix.com.

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