Stop Smoking Treatments: Medication

The National Health Service currently offers two types of medication, which are proven to help people quit smoking; these include bupropion (often sold under the brand name Zyban) and varenicline (sold under the brand name Champix). These medications are available from your GP.


Previously used to treat depression, Bupropion has been proven to help people quit smoking; although it is not understood exactly how it works, experts think that it helps to nullify addictive behaviour, which helps people to give up for good. With this drug, you take 1 or 2 tablets per day, ideally 7-14 days before you plan to give up, as it can take time for the medication to take effect. Most people undergo treatment for between 6 and 9 weeks. Bupropion is not suitable for everyone and it is not generally prescribed to anyone who is pregnant or breastfeeding, those with liver cirrhosis, people with anorexia or bulimia nervosa and anyone who has a tumour, which affects the central nervous system. As taking this form of medication can also increase the risk of having a seizure, it is not recommended for anyone who suffers from epilepsy, those with drink or drug addiction, some people with diabetes and anyone who is receiving treatment for bipolar disorder. 

Possible side-effects of bupropion include:

  • unsettled stomach
  • light-headedness
  • headaches
  • a loss of concentration
  • feeling tired and drowsy
  • dry mouth


Varenicline helps people to quit smoking by reducing the positive effects of smoking; it does this by stopping nicotine from bonding to receptors in your brain. It can also help to prevent withdrawal symptoms, such as mood swings, as it also provides mild stimulation for the receptors in the same way that nicotine does when you smoke a cigarette. It is advisable to start treatment around 7-14 days before you plan to quit; set a date and then start your treatment. The normal course for this medication is 12 weeks, but it is possible to prolong treatment if necessary.

Varenicline is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18 years old, people who suffer from epilepsy, pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding or those with severe kidney problems. 

Possible side-effects of taking varenicline include:

  • nausea and sickness
  • headaches
  • disturbed sleep
  • eating more 
  • odd and vivid dreams
  • bowel changes
  • feeling tired and drowsy
  • dry mouth
  • bloating

Some people have expressed worries about feeling depressed when taking varenicline; if this is the case, see your GP. 

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