BERLIN – If you know anything at all about the smoking cessation drug Chantix it’s that taking it can cause vivid dreams and that one of the side effects is severe depression. When I elected to use this method to help me quit smoking I was counting on the former and discounting the possibility of the latter.
The cliche that fits best here is “Live and Learn.”
Early on in the process, our support group leader Linda E. Green, R.N., M. Ed., C.D.E. went through the pros and cons of the different quitting aides she told us about a former participant who had become visibly depressed while using Chantix. The person in question had a history of minor depression but didn’t think anything of it when they started feeling poorly.
Green said when the normally fastidious person came to her office disheveled and in a panic, she got them off the Chantix right away and got in touch with the person’s doctor. Eventually, with the help of anti-depressants the person was back to normal but also back to smoking. The disappointing part, she said, was that the patient was doing so well with the Chantix and was truly devastated that the drug was no longer an option.
Stories like this, if nothing else, are the best reason to join the support group if you’re trying to quit or planning on quitting. In addition to support and useful factoids, you can receive access to the kinds of stories that help you make better decisions.
Although it’s possible that the depression came on over a period of time, I felt as if it hit me all at once. Sometimes I feel a little down after the Thanksgiving break – it’s mostly a case of homesickness – so the depression could have crept up on me during the opening weeks of December, but I doubt it.
I’d been taking Chantix for a little over two weeks before the depression hit. I have never suffered from clinical or even chemical depression – I’m even a happy drunk – so when I hit the wall it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was almost cartoonish, I couldn’t dress or eat or work literally spending the day in my pajamas waiting for the funk to lift.
The first reaction I had was to tough it out. It’s rare to be so depressed you do something useful, but I was low enough to feel like I’d never get out of it but not so low that I didn’t care. I remembered Green’s story and figured I’d give her a call to see how long the blackness would last.
When we spoke she was genuinely sympathetic and said it shouldn’t last too long but would feel better if I spoke with my doctor about it.
After assuring me she’d forwarded my question to my doctor, one of the nurses told me the depression would last about a week after I stopped the medication. This turned out to be accurate but the lag time is different for different people. There is a reduced-dose Chantix doctors can prescribe for people who are worried about depression but it takes longer to work.
What’s important to remember is that, should you decide to try quitting using Chantix – and it’s worth trying as long as you’re careful – don’t fool around with feelings of depression. It’s difficult because depression is also one of the side effects of quitting cold turkey.
I’ve done it both ways and there is a significant difference in quality of the two depressions. Cold turkey depression is often like the irritability that comes with quitting: it might take a second to recognize it, but it’s recognizable. The Chantix-based depression is like nothing you’ve ever experienced because if you have, there’s no way your doctor would let you go on it.