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A variety of treatments and resources are available for people who want to stop using tobacco, including medications and counseling. Your chances of successfully quitting are greater if you use a comprehensive plan that includes steps such as setting a quit date, developing strategies to deal with triggers (situations that cause you to want to use tobacco), and building a network of support. Talk with your doctor about which approach may work best for you.
Using medication can at least double your chances of quitting smoking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three types of medications to treat nicotine dependence:
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT is the most widely used medication. It has mild side effects and is available over the counter and by prescription in various forms (gum, a lozenge, a patch that you place on the skin, an inhaler, and a nasal spray). NRT reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and cravings. Your doctor will help find the best dose for you based on your current smoking habits.
Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban). This antidepressant medication may be used to reduce withdrawal symptoms, even if you are not depressed. Common side effects include dry mouth and insomnia (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).
Varenicline (Chantix). This medication reduces withdrawal symptoms and keeps you from enjoying nicotine if you start smoking again. Common side effects include nausea, vivid dreams, constipation, and drowsiness.
In addition to medication, counseling increases your chances of successfully stopping tobacco use. Consider talking with your doctor about getting a referral to meet with a professionally trained smoking cessation counselor or mental health therapist, especially if several of your attempts to quit have been unsuccessful or if you are experiencing the following:
- Severe feelings of anxiety or depression
- Not enough support from family and friends in your effort to quit
- A dependence on alcohol or other substances
Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers have different regulations as to what types of tobacco cessation programs they cover and how much payment they require from participants. Talk with a nurse, social worker, or other member of your health care team to learn what may be covered through your insurance policy or to learn about your options if you do not have health insurance.
Questions to ask your doctor
Your doctor is your partner in your effort to quit. Ask for help understanding the consequences of tobacco use, ways to stop using tobacco, and local resources available to help you reach your goal. Consider asking your doctor the following questions:
- How is smoking or using tobacco hurting my health?
- What are the health benefits of quitting tobacco?
- How will smoking or other tobacco use affect how well the cancer treatment works? Will I experience more or different side effects from treatment if I continue to use tobacco?
- What medications are available to help me stop?
- What behavioral changes do I need to make to stop using tobacco?
- How can I avoid or reduce the triggers that make me want to smoke and use tobacco?
- How can you and your team help me manage the stress of quitting along with the stress of a cancer diagnosis?
- What smoking/tobacco cessation resources are available in my community?
- If I am worried about the costs of programs to help me quit using tobacco, who can help me with these concerns?
- How can my family and friends help me?
- How often should you and I discuss my progress?