Okay, this is something I have to share. I’ve been smoking for 30 years. Yeah, 30. More years than I lived without smoking, which would be 13. And I was a rabid smoker. Just let anyone try to get between me and my habit! Ask Cabana Boy. He’s endured me on flights to California a few times. Not fun for anyone. I was the kind of smoker who would have panic attacks just knowing I was out of cigarettes, even though I just had one. I couldn’t walk into the office without cigarettes in my purse, even though I couldn’t smoke in there.

So Linda, a coworker at Honda, told me that her friend had smoked for 40 years, and quit with no problems using Chantix, a prescription drug. I never dreamed, when I was a rebellious 13-year-old, that I would still be smoking 30 years later, and my kids have been on me to quit, and I really do want to see my grandchildren someday, so I did my usual thing. I googled. I read the scary New Yorker blog written by the guy who developed a serious depressive (possibly psychotic?) episode on Chantix. I read medical accounts. And I read tons of comments on a doctor’s blog. I decided it was worth trying if it could break this habit.

I told Cabana Boy to watch me closely for signs of depression. (Unfortunately, he knows what to look for from 10 years ago.) I went for it, prepared for nausea, but hoping to avoid it by always taking Chantix with food, and prepared for some killer psychedelic dreams. Alas, no dreams, but awesomely, no other side effects either. Well, I was a little tingly and floaty the first day, but no nausea.

Chantix works by blocking the receptors in your brain that nicotine usually fills. Normally, that would make a person like me go into insane withdrawal. But the thing is, when you smoke, and the nicotine gets into those receptors, you get this little reward called dopamine. So Chantix gives you the dopamine. 

It takes a while to build up in your system (they start you off slowly to avoid nausea), so you don’t try to quit as soon as you start taking it. In fact, I didn’t actually try to quit at all. As the drug builds up in your system over the first week or two, the association between that good feeling (dopamine) and the cigarettes starts to break down. On the third day, for the first time in nearly 30 years, I actually forgot to smoke after dinner. I kept smoking after that though, but just didn’t feel as urgent about it.

After about a week on Chantix, I felt pretty ambivalent about cigarettes. They had always smelled bad, but I used to think they tasted good anyway. It turns out that without the dopamine enticement, they really don’t taste all that good. I think it was a week or 10 days into it that I took the big plunge and went to work without cigarettes. I mean, it’s one thing not to smoke them knowing that I could if I wanted to. It’s an entirely different thing to set out without cigarettes in the cold dark of ungodly early morning on an hour-long commute to Planet Honda, where everyone wears white and you cannot leave for eight and a half hours, and then it’s another 15 or 20 minutes’ of the drive homeward before you reenter the real world. So for me, the prospect of 10 hours with no prospect of smoking was a true test of my mettle. (And yes, I could have bummed a cigarette from someone, but none of my coworkers smokes, and I’d been smoking in my car. So I would have had to bum one from a complete stranger.) I was fine, and went several hours at a time without even thinking about it. And it was awesome to sit with my friends during break instead of freezing my ass off outside.

You may be thinking that this sounds too easy, and that there must be a catch. Well, there are several:

  1. Chantix costs about the same as smoking a pack a day, so until you quit, you’re paying out double unless you’re lucky enough to have insurance that will actually pay for it. Mine only got me a $25 discount. Oh yeah, and they come in four-week packages, so prepare to lay out $115 (or $140 if you don’t have insurance).
  2. It doesn’t work for everyone. Cabana Boy started taking mine two weeks ago and says it’s not doing it for him. (It might just be taking longer to build up for him though, so I hope it will still work.) But there are some people who develop mental problems or can’t get past the nausea. So there’s the risk that you’ll invest all that money in a month’s worth of pills that don’t work for you.
  3. You’re still stuck with figuring out what to do with yourself as a non-smoker. If you’re skinny and have always wanted to gain weight, well this is your chance! If you’re like me, you’ve got to find a way to get out of the self-indulgent mindset and quit overeating. It’s easy to get discouraged at this point (like three weeks into it for me).

Linda suggested knitting to keep my hands occupied. Turns out she was right again! When you’re knitting, you want your hands clean so the thing you’re knitting doesn’t get dirty. This means you don’t want to go snacking while you do it. Also, it’s kind of addictive (just let me finish this row!) and soothing, and with a little practice, I don’t suck at it nearly as much as I did last time Mom tried to teach me. It’s satisfying to have a dishcloth to show for your time instead of an overflowing ashtray. And now I’m embarking on my first baby afghan.

I think I’m about a month into it (maybe a little more), and I’m feeling great! That gunk that I was coughing up for the past 25 years is gone. I don’t get that alarming whistle in my chest any more. I can smell again. (Egads! How long did my tennis shoes smell like that? And nobody told me!) I don’t go around reeking. I’m mostly past the “Oh God what do I do with myself now?” phase. I think the wrinkles around my lips from having them puckered for what amounted to a couple of hours a day are starting to ease. I’ll probably live longer. And I finally found my mindset to get the weight off. My new mantra is “Which would be more fun? Eating this junk or dancing to Phish at Bonnaroo without worrying about flabbering out all over the place?”

I highly recommend Chantix. Even if it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s worth a shot in case it works for you as well as it has for me. I’ll put an update on here when I quit taking it, and let you know how that goes. My doctor said that I should stay on it for six months, since I smoked so much and for so long. I hope this helps a fellow googler!