Does Champix Actually Work? Yes — But Only as a Last Resort

If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the vile sickness that consumed me when I smoked my last cigarette.

I was in my kitchen, doubled over, trying to suck the smoke into my lungs between deep, violent coughs which tore at my chest and expelled huge, filthy phlegm bombs out across the floor.

One small drag, one huge cough…

…Another small drag, another disgusting blob splatting out, feeling as though the very lining of my lungs were being dragged up through my throat and propelled out of my spit-soaked mouth.

I tried again, another drag.

This time, I hurled vomit all over the kitchen floor, then stumbled backwards, collapsing against the fridge, still doubled over, face flush red and eyes watering, gasping for air.

I extinguished that cigarette after three failed, miserable drags, then -and I’m not ashamed to admit this- I cried a little.

At first, I cried because I was overwhelmed by what an extremely brutal reaction I’d just experienced to something I’d done thousands of times before.

Then I cried for another reason.

I cried because of the absolute, crystal clear certainty of my realisation:

That was it. I was done.

My 16 year career as a smoker was over, reaching its end in a disgusting and violent finale that felt akin to ejecting some kind of evil demon from the core of my being.

I knew in that instant that I was free. That if I didn’t want to, I would never have to smoke another cigarette again.

The tears I was crying were now tears of joy.

I cried because I was free, and because I’d finally found something that worked.

Using Varenicline (Champix) to Quit Smoking

You see, that extremely violent reaction to my last cigarette didn’t just happen by itself. A solid few weeks of taking Varenicline (better known as Champix or Chantix) had a lot more to do with it.

For the uninitiated, Champix is a drug that first hit the market over here in the UK back in 2006, and is used as a smoking cessation tool.

I’m not a science guy, and honestly, if I tried to tell you the hard, medical facts about what happens when your take it, I’d likely get it wrong, so allow me to quote directly from Patient.info, who I think have got it pretty spot on:

The precise action of varenicline is that it interferes with the receptors in the brain that nicotine stimulates. (The nicotine in cigarettes attaches to receptors in brain cells to stimulate part of the brain — this is how nicotine has its effect.) What varenicline does is to partly stimulate the nicotine receptors. This mimics the effects of nicotine, to reduce cravings and withdrawal effects when you stop smoking. However, at the same time, it partially blocks the receptors and prevents nicotine from attaching to the receptors. This blocks or blunts the effect of nicotine in people who give in to temptation and have a cigarette.

The way I would describe it is this:

Champix is horrible drug that not only reduces cravings but reduces the enjoyment of smoking by gradually making you sicker and sicker every time you smoke.

At least, that was my experience of it.

I had first tried Champix three or four years ago in what I realise now was a half-hearted attempt to quit smoking.

A magic pill that would make me not want to smoke and cure me of my addiction forever and ever? Great! Sign me up!

Except of course, it didn’t quite work like that. All Champix did back then was give me horrible nausea every morning when I took and eventually made me so ill whilst smoking that I was forced to quit.

That was good news. Initially at least, it seemed that Champix actually worked really well.

That however, was not the end of things:

Once I put the cigarettes down, I put the medication down too

I probably survived (and survived is the only word for it) for about two months, before I got stressed out whilst heading to a Bob Dylan concert, bought a packed of cigarettes, and then continued to smoke for another three years.

Champix: The last resort of the desperate smoker

When I hit my nicotine-induced rock bottom in 2016, I did everything I could to try and quit smoking without resorting to Champix.

A friend gave me patches.

I ripped them off.

I got into vaping, but that was no good either, and I quickly regretted it.

Books didn’t work.

Self-hypnosis didn’t work.

Bouncing off the walls trying to do it Trainspotting style certainly didn’t work.

In the end, there was nothing for it.

The last resort.

Bring on the nausea, the sickness, the headaches, bring on the relief from my addiction.

Once again, the initial run got me to the point where smoking made me so physically and violently ill that I just could not put another cigarette in my mouth.

Yet there was a reason why this time I cried tears of joy after that last cigarette in a way that I hadn’t done before.

This time, I knew it was different.

This time, I knew something that I hadn’t known before:

Champix only works to help you quit if you work to help yourself

Varenicline is not magic. It doesn’t miraculously cure smokers of their addiction, and it certainly isn’t a replacement for willpower.

If I was going to successfully stop -and successfully stay stopped- I had to do more than just take a bunch of tablets until I physically couldn’t smoke any more.

I had to complete the course of medication after that cigarette, but I also had to change my mindset.

I had to develop a new attitude, one which would ensure that, even if I did have to bounce off the walls from time to time, I wouldn’t let stressful situations lead my back to smoking.

I had to be firm, resolute, and ultimately know, not just intellectually, but emotionally, that I was done with smoking.

Champix may have helped me break the physical habit, but the mental addiction lingered with me for a good while afterwards, and there was no drug in the world that could help me with that.

However, there was something that could:

That last cigarette

I would be lying out of my ass i I told you that I had never once been tempted to buy cigarettes since I quit.

There have been occasions, but this time, it’s different.

This time, those moments are fleeting, infrequent, and far less severe than they ever have been.

When they do arrive however, all I have to do to make them go away is to think of that last cigarette.

My brain is now wired to associate smoking with that horrible experience of my last cigarette.

I think about smoking, and I think about literally coughing my guts up. I think about the vile sickness that consumed me, about vomiting all over my kitchen floor and collapsing, face flush red, tears in my eyes, crying.

Today, that’s what smoking is for me, and as long as that it remains that way, I need never smoke another cigarette again.