Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Can I get a pill to help me quit smoking?

Q. Is there a prescription medication to help me stop smoking? My doctor says no.

A. I hope you misunderstood your doctor, because there are prescription medications that can help you stop smoking. But none are guaranteed to work, and they're most effective when taken as part of a broader program, such as a support group for people trying to quit.

The first medicine is nicotine. It's the nicotine in tobacco smoke that hooks a smoker; other components of tobacco smoke increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. Giving nicotine as a medicine helps with the withdrawal symptoms that make quitting so hard — anxiety, irritability, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, and depression. It comes in many forms: gums, lozenges, skin patches, nasal sprays, inhalers. Some don't require a prescription. Often people start on a high dose that is gradually decreased to help wean the body slowly off its nicotine addiction.

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