Quit Medication Basics

Imagine you’re about to head out on a hike or long walk. Now imagine what shoes you would wear on your trek. You’d probably choose a pair of sturdy hiking boots, right? Once you put your hiking boots on, you will still need to hike the trail yourself. Your boots won’t do the walking for you, but they give you support on your hike and keep you more comfortable on the journey.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications are safe and effective ways to help you quit.

Much like how sturdy boots support you on a hike, medication supports you on your quit.

Medication won’t do the work of quitting for you. You will still need to practice new ways of managing triggers and cravings. But medication reduces the intensity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. And it will double your chances of quitting for good. It supports you by making you more comfortable on your quitting journey.

What are the different medications?

There are seven FDA-approved medications in the U.S. Five of these are nicotine replacement therapies (NRT). They are the nicotine patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler, and nasal spray. NRT gives you a small and controlled dose of nicotine. The nicotine inhaler was discontinued in 2023 because of supply chain issues.

The other two are medications that don’t have any nicotine. They are bupropion (Zyban®) and varenicline (Chantix®).

You can use one medication alone or multiple medications together. Using multiple medications together is called combination therapy.

Do I need a prescription for medication?

If you are over 18, you do not need a prescription for nicotine patches, gum, or lozenges. You can buy them over the counter.

You need a prescription for bupropion, varenicline, and nicotine nasal spray.

What's the difference between nicotine in NRT and nicotine from other products?

Using FDA-approved medications is safer than getting nicotine from other products. NRT does not contain any of the other ingredients of cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, dip/chew tobacco, or other tobacco products that make them dangerous.

Using medications long-term does not cause any major health problems. But smoking, vaping, and dipping/chewing (even for a short time!) can cause many major health problems. So, even if you use medications for a long time, they are still much safer than using tobacco products.

Isn’t NRT just another form of addiction?

Cigarettes, vapes, and smokeless tobacco give you a lot of nicotine very quickly. This is why they are so addictive. NRT gives you a slower dose of a smaller amount of nicotine. It’s enough to reduce the intensity of the craving without flooding your brain with nicotine. This is why NRT is much less addictive than smoking, vaping, or using smokeless tobacco.

Tobacco products are designed to keep you addicted and use them forever. NRT is designed to help you transition off of tobacco products and stop using nicotine for good.

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Navigating Nicotine Replacement: What are the options available?

When it comes to choosing the right nicotine replacement, it really comes down to what you would find effective in helping manage cravings. For example, some like the gum and or lozenges while others might not want anything in their mouth and would prefer patches only. Cost might be another factor that goes into helping you decide which option works best. It certainly is not a one size fits all scenario, so it’s important to try different products to figure out if one suits you better than another.

Using quitting medication in persons with a mental illness

First, quitting medications are as safe for tobacco users with mental health problems as for those without mental health problems. Second, using any of the medications led to higher quit rates than using the placebo. Medications can help make your quitting journey more comfortable and more successful. Talk to your doctor and feel free to share this information with them!