Help! I Want to Quit Smoking!

nicotine patch

First things first, consider this a virtual high five for making the decision to quit smoking! You’ve made your health a priority, and you should be proud of yourself. But deciding to quit smoking is just the first step – the rest of the path to successfully quitting may not be as easy for you. That’s when the options below may come into play in helping you stay healthy and put out the cigarettes for good.

Medicines to help you quit

When used correctly, there are several different medicines that can really help you on your path to quitting. Some treatments are aimed at reducing the side effects of quitting, like headaches or irritability, while others help by making nicotine cravings less severe. Whether it’s a nicotine replacement medicine, a non-nicotine replacement medicine or a combination of both, you should talk to your doctor or nurse about the best treatment plan for you.

Nicotine replacement medicines

*You can’t use nicotine replacement medicines if you keep smoking or use other tobacco products. Using both at the same time can be dangerous.

Typically, nicotine replacement treatment lasts between two and three months. Even though you can buy several of these products over the counter, you should still talk to your doctor first about which specific type is best for you.

Nicotine chewing gum or lozenges

For decades, nicotine gum has been helping people successfully quit smoking. You can buy the gum or lozenges in a drug store without a prescription – just be sure to read the directions on the packaging and follow the recommended dosages for the gum or lozenges.

Things to note:

  • Try to chew a piece of gum or suck a lozenge every one to two hours while you’re awake, but don’t use more than 20 pieces/day of 4 mg gum or lozenges, or 30 pieces/day of 2 mg gum or lozenges. The number of pieces you use each day will decrease over time.
  • Don’t drink coffee, orange juice, soda or alcohol for 15 minutes before or while chewing a piece of gum/sucking a lozenge. These drinks make the nicotine replacement less powerful.
  • If you don’t use nicotine gum or lozenges correctly, you may have side effects such as discomfort in your mouth and throat.
  • You may need to use nicotine gum or lozenges for three months.

Nicotine patch

Did you know you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to buy a nicotine patch? Some brands are available in 5, 10 and 15 mg strengths; others come in 7, 14 and 21 mg strengths. What strength you should start with depends on how much you currently smoke. The brand you choose should have recommended doses in their packaging to help you determine where to start. Then as you keep successfully moving along the path to quitting, you’ll begin to taper off your dosage and start using lower-strength patches based on your specific brand’s recommended schedule.

Things to note:

  • Wear the patch on your chest or high on your arm.
  • Put on a new patch every 16 or 24 hours. If you have trouble sleeping or have disturbing dreams, remove the patch before you go to bed and put on a new one first thing when you wake up.
  • No need to change your daily routine – with the patch, you can shower, swim and enjoy all your favorite physical activities.
  • Side effects may include redness and soreness under the patch. To help reduce side effects, you should change the location of the patch each day.

Nicotine spray

Unlike the first two nicotine replacement options, you will need a prescription from your doctor to buy the nicotine spray.

Things to note:

  • The spray goes in your nose one or two times per hour when you’re awake.
  • The spray may cause coughing, runny nose or watery eyes during the first week or two. These side effects may go away over time.
  • You may need to use nicotine spray for up to six months, but you’ll start to taper off at or before three months.

Non-nicotine prescription medicines

Some of the major types of commonly prescribed smoking-cessation medicines are summarized in this section. For your information and reference, we have included generic names as well as major trade names to help you identify what you may be taking. However, the AHA is not recommending or endorsing any specific products. If your prescription medication isn’t on this list, remember that your healthcare provider and pharmacist are your best sources of information. It’s important to discuss all of the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their desired effects and possible side effects. Never stop taking a medication and never change your dose or frequency without first consulting your doctor.

  • Bupropion hydrochloride is a medicine for depression, but it also helps people quit smoking. Brand names include Zyban®, Wellbutrin®, Wellbutrin SR® and Wellbutrin XL®. This medication is also available as a generic.
  • Varenicline is a relatively new medicine that may help smokers quit. It is currently available under the brand name Chantix®.


  1. Both medicines block the flow of chemicals in the brain that make you want to smoke.
  2. Both medicines come in pill form. You start with a low dose and gradually increase up to the full dose.
    • It takes about a week for these medicines to work, so you need to start them before you actually quit smoking.
  3. Each of these medicines may interact differently with other medicines you’re taking. Make sure your doctor and pharmacist have a complete list of all your medications, including over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbal medicines.
  4. You may need to use a non-nicotine prescription medicine for seven to 12 weeks or longer, based on your doctor’s recommendations.
  5. When you get ready to stop taking a non-nicotine prescription medicine, you may need to taper off, gradually decreasing the dose before you stop completely.
  6. The FDA notified the public that varenicline and bupropion have been associated with reports of behavior changes including hostility, agitation, depressed mood and suicidal thoughts or actions. The FDA is requiring the manufacturers of these products to add a warning to the product labeling to alert healthcare professionals to this important new safety information.
  7. While taking these drugs, if you experience any serious and unusual changes in mood or behavior or feel like hurting yourself or someone else, you should stop taking the medicine and call your healthcare professional right away.
  8. Friends or family members who notice these changes in behavior in someone who is taking varenicline or bupropion for smoking cessation should tell the person their concerns and recommend that he or she stop taking the drug and call a healthcare professional right away.

Resources to help you quit

Like we said earlier, quitting isn’t easy for everyone. But you don’t have to do this alone – many people find support groups and hotlines helpful when quitting smoking. Sometimes just knowing that someone understands and shares your struggle can help you stay smoke-free for good. These organizations may offer personalized help or listings of classes and support groups in your community.