Are There Effective Treatments for Tobacco Addiction?

Tobacco addiction is a chronic disease that often requires multiple attempts to quit. Although some smokers are able to quit without help, many others need assistance. Generally, rates of relapse for smoking cessation are highest in the first few weeks and months and diminish considerably after about 3 months. Both behavioral interventions (counseling) and medication can help smokers quit; but the combination of medication with counseling is more effective than either alone.

Nicotine addiction

Nicotine addiction

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments employ a variety of methods to assist smokers in quitting, ranging from self-help materials to individual counseling. These interventions teach individuals to recognize high-risk situations and develop coping strategies to deal with them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) national toll-free quitline, 800-QUIT-NOW, is an access point for any smoker seeking information and assistance in quitting.

Nicotine Replacement Treatments

Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), such as nicotine gum and the nicotine patch, were the first pharmacological treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in smoking cessation therapy. NRTs deliver a controlled dose of nicotine to a smoker in order to relieve withdrawal symptoms during the smoking cessation process. They are most successful when used in combination with behavioral treatments.

Other Medications

Bupropion and varenicline are two FDA-approved non-nicotine medications that effectively increase rates of long-term abstinence from smoking. Bupropion, a medication that goes by the trade name Zyban, was approved by the FDA in 1997 for use in smoking cessation. Varenicline tartrate (trade name: Chantix) targets nicotine receptors in the brain, easing withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of nicotine if people resume smoking.

Current Treatment Research

Scientists are currently pursuing many other avenues of research to develop new smoking cessation therapies. One promising intervention is a vaccine called NicVax that works by targeting nicotine in the bloodstream, blocking its access to the brain and thereby preventing its reinforcing effects. Preliminary trials of this vaccine have yielded promising results, with vaccinated smokers achieving higher quit rates and longer term abstinence compared to smokers given placebo. NicVax is now being evaluated in Phase III clinical trials; successful completion will bring NicVax closer to final approval by the FDA.

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