Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. However, smoking cessation can be difficult. That said, medications are available to help reduce cravings and make it easier for someone to quit.

Smoking is a harmful habit that can result in severe health complications. When a person decides to quit smoking, it involves breaking the cycle of nicotine addiction. Many strategies to help with smoking cessation involve rewiring the brain to stop craving nicotine.

Medications can help achieve this by easing nicotine cravings, decreasing withdrawal symptoms, and keeping a person from using tobacco again.

In this article, we will discuss the different medications available to help with smoking cessation.

Nicotine gum-1.Share on Pinterest
Freila/Getty Images

Different medications that can help with smoking cessation include the below.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine is the main addictive substance in tobacco. As such, when a person quits smoking, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. This is because the body must become familiar with no longer having nicotine.

Therefore, NRT aims to relieve these cravings by supplying nicotine without the other harmful chemicals present in tobacco. This can help ease the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may occur when a person stops getting nicotine from cigarettes. Evidence suggests that using NRT can nearly double the likelihood of quitting smoking.

NRT is available in a variety of forms, which can include:

  • patches
  • gum
  • lozenges
  • inhalers
  • nasal sprays


Bupropion is an antidepressant that people can also use to help quit smoking. The drug has Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as an aid to smoking cessation treatment. A person will require a prescription for this medication and should follow their doctor’s detailed instructions on using it.

Bupropion does not contain nicotine, so it works differently than NRT. It can help balance chemicals in the brain, which assists in reducing the withdrawal symptoms a person may experience. It alters the brain’s response to nicotine, which helps make smoking less pleasurable and reduces cravings.

Under the care of a healthcare professional, a person can use bupropion in combination with NRT.


Varenicline is another medication that can help aid smoking cessation. It is another prescription medication with FDA approval to help people quit smoking. It also requires a person to follow their doctor’s instructions regarding use.

Varenicline can help with smoking cessation by mimicking some of nicotine’s effects on the brain. It can reduce the enjoyment of smoking and make it easier to quit. It does this by attaching to the same parts of the brain that nicotine does, but without stimulating them as strongly.

As such, this can help reduce nicotine cravings and help with withdrawal symptoms, such as the urge to smoke, feeling depressed or irritable, and difficulty sleeping.

Other drugs

Other drugs that may show some promise in helping people to quit smoking include:

  • nortriptyline, an older antidepressant drug
  • clonidine, which can help to reduce blood pressure
  • cytisine, a plant-based drug
  • naltrexone, which can help those with alcohol and opioid abuse disorders

To help quit smoking, a person may want to develop a quit plan. This involves setting goals and being mindful of the reasons they are deciding to quit. Additionally, individuals may want to stay busy, such as through exercise or by keeping their hands occupied with a pen or toothpick. They could also consider avoiding potential triggers by throwing cigarettes away and changing their routines.

Other tips may include:

  • focusing on motivators
  • building confidence by setting small goals
  • managing stress
  • enlisting the help of friends and family

Quitting smoking can be difficult due to nicotine being an addictive substance. Cigarettes rapidly deliver nicotine to the brain, triggering the release of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. These chemical messengers make a person feel good.

As nicotine stimulates the brain, it changes how the brain works and makes it feel like nicotine is necessary just to feel okay. When someone stops smoking and stops receiving nicotine, the brain becomes irritable. These feelings are known as withdrawal symptoms.

Quitting smoking is an important action people can take to improve their health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the main health benefits of quitting smoking include:

  • reducing the risk of premature death and increasing life expectancy
  • reducing the risk of many health complications, such as cancer, lung conditions, and heart problems
  • improving health and quality of life
  • reducing the financial burden that smoking can place on individuals, healthcare systems, and society

Learn more about what happens after smoking cessation.

Quitting smoking can provide various health benefits. However, it can be very difficult to quit because nicotine is an addictive substance — people may experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to do so. However, medications are available to help with smoking cessation, including nicotine replacement therapy and prescription drugs such as bupropion and varenicline.