Champix, the Monster Within and the Cold Turkey

The Monster Within

I was somewhere in my misguided teens when I started smoking many years ago.  Looking back, it is very easy to see that I was self-medicating for depression at first, though I didn’t know it at the time.  It was, of course, not long before I discovered the monster within – that demon that fed off nicotine and refused to allow a normal level of oxygen in my bloodstream.

Over the years I have made plenty attempts at stopping smoking using various methods.  Some were more successful than others, with a record achievement of 3 months without smoking around 2007 using the cold-turkey method.  That attempt failed dismally when I was out with friends one night and convinced myself that I needed to smoke a cigarette to prove to myself that I’m over it, because playing Russian Roulette is of course how you prove you’re not suicidal…

The monster within lived with me for decades, entangling the smallest actions of my life in its grip.  I smoked when I walked, I smoked when I socialized, I smoked when I bathed, I smoked when I watched television, I smoked when I worked, I smoked when I drove…  I smoked a minimum of twenty times during a normal sixteen hour day, and often double that when socializing, spending more than R1000 per month on cigarettes by the time I quit.

The Champix

Champix Logo

I started taking Champix on 1 May 2014, with a quit date of 7 May 2014.

My doctor, who is also a smoker and who has used Champix in the past, warned me of vivid dreams, which was the worst aspect of Champix for him.

The most common side-effects are:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach or bowel problems (e.g. constipation, gas, dry mouth, vomiting, indigestion)
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Unusual dreams
  • Feeling tired
  • Increased appetite
  • Changes in taste

I had all of these (except vomiting), but they improved with time.

After the first couple of days on Champix, my consumption of cigarettes dropped dramatically, and not because I made a conscious effort.  It stayed that way all through May.  My quit date came and went, and for one reason or another (actually any reason I could find), I could not convince myself to entirely give up smoking, rather staying on the 3 cigarettes a day regimen Champix enabled me to cope on.

At the end of May, with a week’s supply left, I needed a new prescription for the second month on Champix, but my doctor was on leave and I didn’t have time to go to another doctor, so I started to delve a little deeper into my quit.

I eventually figured out that the reason Champix worked so well was because it blocked nicotine receptors, while at the same time partially stimulating them, like nicotine would.  The realization dawned on me:  while Champix made it easier not to smoke – what would happen once I stopped taking it, even after taking it for 3 months?  I would still have the same amount of nicotine receptors, no longer being partially stimulated, and then?  Surely I would relapse if I relied solely on Champix.

I made a decision then to stop taking Champix once my supply ran out, and entirely stopped smoking that day.

Thanks to Champix, I didn’t have a major withdrawal period as in traditional, purist cold turkey.  Once I stopped smoking, it was pretty much life-on-Champix as usual.

The Cold Turkey

My last cigarette was at a party on 31 May 2014.  I played Russian Roulette again, and had a cigarette, after having battled the whole day with an obsession to smoke.  I am extremely thankful that that cigarette tasted utterly disgusting, and was indeed my last.

It takes six to twelve weeks for nicotine receptors to reduce to “normal” levels after stimulation stops.  The first three weeks after Champix was somewhat challenging – pretty similar to the first three weeks on cold turkey without the first three days of hell.

In week four I had flu, and consequently developed major sinus trouble, which has still not completely cleared up after four months.  My doctor has explained that nicotine can act as an anti-allergy drug, suppressing sinus trouble, which can cause a backlash at a later stage, much like normal sinus and hay-fever medication could.

The first week of the third month was somewhat challenging as well, with frequent mild background “craves” for cigarettes, which were easy to ignore.

The Conclusion

Quitting nicotine is by no means an easy challenge.  Statistically, those who have stayed quit for any meaningful length of time (six months and longer) have made several attempts before finally succeeding, and must remain vigilant against the slightest inclination to smoke, or they will relapse, even after years of being quit.

With each quit attempt, we learn new information that helps us with our next attempt.  What works for one person, may not work for another.

While Champix was hugely helpful in my quit, I cannot ascribe the success of my quit solely to its use.  In my mind, the biggest single contributor to my staying quit is that I realized that I am wasting my time and money near the end of May 2014, relying on a drug which, at best, was simply delaying reduced cravings.

If you’d like more information on quitting smoking, please visit whyquit.com