Smoking Cessation Drug Varenicline Helps Women More Than Men

By McCarton Ackerman 10/08/15

Researchers have made a huge breakthrough for women looking to kick the habit.

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When it comes to quitting cigarettes, a new study has found that the smoking cessation drug varenicline, otherwise known as Chantix, may give women a greater boost than men.

The findings, published in the latest issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, came from a review of 16 randomized, placebo-controlled trials of the drug. Varenicline was 46% more effective in women than men after three months and 31% more effective after six months. One year after beginning to use the drug, successful quitting rates were identical between women and men at 53%.

This is a huge breakthrough for women looking to kick their tobacco habit since nicotine patches and older prescription drugs like bupropion have been proven to be less effective in women. The authors noted that “smoking in women is more strongly tied to negative affect and stress and varenicline may directly target negative affect and improve mood during nicotine withdrawal,” although they recommended that more sex-specific research on this be conducted in the future.

Varenicline was first officially approved by the FDA in 2006. Users are typically given a 12-week treatment regimen and, if necessary, an additional 12-week maintenance regimen.

Separate studies have also found that the drug could even help users cut back on their drinking. A May 2012 study from the University of California, San Francisco showed that study participants who were given varenicline reduced their weekly alcohol consumption by an average of 36%. Lead author Jennifer Mitchell said the drug didn’t affect the frequency of alcohol consumption, but did lower how much participants drank once they started.

This reduction in drinking is particularly crucial for varenicline users. The FDA put out a warning last March that the drug can greatly intensify the effects of drinking, lead to increased drunkenness and amnesia, as well as aggressive and “unusual behavior.” Some patients have also reported violent and even suicidal tendencies while using it.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.