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Quitting medication: Champix (varenicline)

You've decided to quit, but what's the best method of quitting for you?

Champix (varenicline) is a quit-smoking prescription medication. You take it in tablet form.

How to use?

Champix is a 12-week course. You take a tablet (preferably with food) each morning and evening (apart from the first three days when you just take one tablet in the morning). 

How does it help?

When you puff on a cigarette, nicotine travels through your lungs, into your bloodstream and to your brain. It attaches to nicotine receptors which release a brain-reward chemical called dopamine – you get a hit of pleasure.

When you take Champix, it attaches to many of these nicotine receptors. The result is: 

  • you get continual release of that pleasure chemical dopamine. It’s not quite the same intensity as a cigarette but it’s spread out over the whole day
  • you usually get less cravings and less withdrawals, such as difficulty concentrating, frustration, restlessness and anxiety 
  • if you do have a cigarette, the cigarette seems to be missing something – you don’t get a strong pleasure hit

How effective is it?

Taking Champix, in combination with Quitline, is currently the most effective way to quit smoking. It more than doubles your chance of quitting. To hear more, request a callback from Quitline.

Pros and cons

Champix is simple to use and has the highest success rate of all quitting products. Like any medication, there is a possibility of side effects (see below). 

Where to get it

You can get discounted Champix on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). You will need to get a prescription from your doctor that you take to your pharmacist. Champix is available on the PBS as a 12-week supply, once a year. 

Best use

You don’t need to quit straight away with Champix. You start on a lower dose of Champix and gradually build up over the first week. As the dose builds up, the cigarettes should become a little less satisfying. You start the highest dose at the beginning of week two, and quit sometime in that second week.

The first pack of Champix lasts for 4 weeks – make sure you go back to the GP in time to get the second pack. The second pack takes you through to the end of the 12-week course. Champix works best when you also work on stress management and strategies to beat the habit . 

Tell it to me straight

Keep smoking in the first week of Champix – it makes the cigarettes taste a bit weird. This makes it easier to stop smoking. You’ll still get cravings once you stop but you’ll likely get less cravings and you're less likely to get that quitting agitation. 

Side effects

Most people on Champix do not have side effects. The most common side effect is nausea, which affects about 3 out of 10 people. It may help to take Champix with food, or your doctor may reduce the dose. Nausea is usually mild-to-moderate and fades with time. Other potential common side effects include trouble sleeping and vivid dreams (in which case take the second tablet earlier in the day to see if that helps). 

Less common side effects include stomach or bowel problems (e.g. constipation, gas, dry mouth, vomiting, indigestion), headache, dizziness, feeling tired, increased appetite and changes in taste. They are usually mild and they generally appear in the first week of taking the medicine. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any symptoms that concern you.

The risk of serious side effects is very low. These are listed in the pack insert. Some people have reported changes in mood or behaviour when taking Champix. If you have any symptoms you think could be serious, stop taking Champix and seek medical advice as soon as possible.

You should let family members and close friends know that you are taking Champix and ask them to look out for any unusual changes in your behaviour or mood. 

Who can’t use Champix (varenicline)?

You cannot take Champix if you are under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding. 

For more information: talk to your doctor, pharmacist or Quitline, or download the Champix fact sheet.

Managing cravings
Medication
Preparing to quit
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