People either love it or hate it. Many consider it a “miracle” cure for nicotine addiction. Others believe it causes misery and depression, even suicide. I first heard of Champix (Chantix in the USA) after a friend of mine began taking it to help him quit smoking.
Having been prescribed Zyban in the past, my initial reaction to the drug was one of skepticism. When my friend told me how great it was and that I should try it, I smugly thought to myself that he was in fact being sucked into another quit smoking gimmick.
I believed my friend was simply trying to convince himself, by convincing me, that this new drug was the way to go.
Having seen my friend live smoke free for more than a few days, my wife began encouraging me to consider looking into the treatment. She had heard several success stories at work and began reiterating them to me at night.
I was still skeptical and refused to acknowledge this new treatment. In my mind, it was a farce, it wasn’t the drug that helped these people it was placebo. Being pig headed, I refused to budge and continued to smoke thirty or more cigarettes a day…because choking away on tar filled butts is such a better option.
My friend’s quit campaign stretched out into weeks and eventually months. The level of success he was having gained my attention. Like myself, he had been a heavy smoker and just as addicted.
I continued to observe his process of reaching new milestones and began to take serious note. After four months, my friend not only looked well, he could comfortably hang out with smokers. What’s more, he could drink beer while doing so!
My wall of skepticism fell and in January 2011 I began my last, best fail at quitting smoking.
My doctor prescribed Champix after explaining the required precautions and what was involved. I needed to take the drug for a number of weeks before setting a date to quit. Aside from that, there were two simple things I needed to remember.
1. That if I had feelings of depression I should return to see my physician.
2. That I stay on the course until it is complete. Most people who failed to quit using Champix, apparently did so because they think they have been successful and stopped taking the medication before completing the full course of treatment.
Several days after beginning the treatment, I noticed a significant drop in my cigarette consumption. I made no concentrated efforts to reduce my smoking beyond a mental note that I needed to do so. I was so impressed by my progress, that by the end of the first week, I had locked in day twelve as my quit day. By day ten I was comfortably down to four or five smokes a day.
Remarkably, the day before my pending quit date, I consumed at entire packet of Winnie Sky Blues. That’s twenty five cigarettes.
I would like to blame Assassins Creed, however, it is likely due to a mental awareness that I wasn’t going to smoke again and that “today” was my last chance to enjoy the big choke. Despite this little set back, I persisted with my plan and quit on the twelfth day of my prescribed course.
The first twenty four hours were surprisingly easy. The second day into my quit I felt a little more edgy. The third day was horrid. I was back at work in my position as retail store manager for a telecommunications company. A company that had significant, no make that extreme, ongoing network issues.
Angry customers and frustrated staff do not create the best environment for a third day quitter. I decided that the best course of action was to see my physician and get a couple more days off work. I needed to see this through and could easily justify the time off.
I managed to see my way through the first five days and break through the most intense phase my chemical withdrawal. Champix, while not exactly being a miracle drug, had definitely made a crack in the wall. I believed, and I mean genuinely believed, that quitting was possible.
For the first two weeks, my brain was utterly consumed by my quit campaign. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I couldn’t stop talking about it. What made it more difficult was the fact my good friend, who had got me onto Champix in the first place, had run into some tough times and started smoking again.
Still I persisted. It took a lot of focus to bust my way through. I even managed to sit through a two day leadership conference for work. You know….the kind where big ego, self interested senior managers, who are out of touch with their work force, like to employ costly special effects when spamming their staff with corporate wank.
The kind of conference where staff are mentally treated like high school students. The kind you sit through, just itching for the next smoke break…. or a slap in the face. The kind of conference where they come up with wanky catch phrases like “Power to you!”
Around the two week mark, things began to get real choppy. I became angry and irate, almost permanently. I was also somewhat depressed. My wife and I agreed that she would take the kids and visit her mother for a week. Strange as it sounds, I couldn’t handle being around them and they couldn’t handle being around me. Thankfully, I have a supportive and understanding wife!
It would be easy to blame Champix for both the mood swings, anger and depression. I suspect the drug receives a lot of excessive and potentially misplaced criticism for it’s suggested role in causing depression and mental illness.
Such criticism is often promoted by select groups within the quit smoking community. Groups who target pharmaceutical corporations and their production of quit smoking assistance drugs, in order to promote a point of view that their method is the only viable way to quit smoking. Most often without any peer reviewed evidence of course.
Despite my personal opinion on the matter, it is worth noting that the drug has been “black boxed” in the USA as a potential threat, advising care be taken in it’s administration or use due to potential links to depression and suicide. Most notably among people who suffer any form of mental illness.
Personally, I felt that my mood swings and depression were due to my quitting a twenty year addiction to nicotine and cigarettes, not the medication. Having said that, I do suspect the medication increases the extent of some issues like insomnia, nausea and bad ass dreams.
These empirically verified side effects, can very much, wear you down. The insomnia especially. The increasing tiredness and fatigue lead me to a point where I would deliberately skip doses of the medication. Soon after, I started to miss smoking.
In March 2011, around 6 weeks into my quit campaign, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, Victoria. Something I had been intensely looking forward too. In the days leading up to the event, I had also become envious of smokers, including my friend who had returned to smoking full time. I knew, given my friend was also going to be there, that if I didn’t allow myself to smoke, I was going to have a shit weekend. My second mistake was leaving behind the Champix.
On arriving in Melbourne, I had decided I would have at least one smoke. I naively reasoned, that because I had beaten the chemical addiction before, I could easily quit again should I somehow become re-addicted. I made an arrangement with my friends; I would pay them for the occasional smoke as opposed to buying a pack. I had four within the first 24 hours.
On the second night, I awoke at 2:00 am with intense cravings. Given that my friends were asleep next door, I had no easy access to cigarettes and decided to walk down to the 7/11 and buy a pack and by the end of the weekend I was remorsefully smoking a packet a day.