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Home / Stop Smoking / Champix / What is the difference between Champix and Zyban?

What is the difference between Champix and Zyban?

Smoking isn’t an easy habit to break - we all know that. It’s not about the smoke, it’s about the socialising, the ten-minute escape from work, the late-night breath of fresh air. The thing is, all of this can be done without a cigarette in hand.

Sadly, smoking is an addiction, and willpower alone might not be enough to stop. If you’ve tried and failed time and time again, it’s important not to kick yourself too much. Everyone is wired differently and reacts to chemicals differently - and there are few chemicals as readily available and addictive as nicotine.

If you find you’re struggling to quit - if every “successful” break ends with a two-month celebratory smoke - then it might be worth considering prescription medications*. Of course, it’s ideal to quit naturally, but if that’s not possible, it’s better to rely on a daily pill (or smoking cessation aid) for a short period, than a daily cigarette.

*Please note - most smoking medications require you to set a target date to stop smoking. You continue smoking alongside taking the medication until this date, at which point you continue to only take the medication. Consult your doctor or the information leaflet of the relevant treatment for more information.

Champix & Zyban - what are the basics?

Champix Zyban
Presentation Tablets Tablets (extended-release)
Active ingredient Varenicline Bupropion
Dosage 0.5mg 150mg
Course length 12 weeks 7 weeks
Date released (for smoking cessation) 2006 2003
First manufactured by Pfizer GlaxoSmithKline

Doctor’s message

Remember - you should always consult with a medical professional before starting any new medication.

It is easy to book a consultation with your doctor. Simply call your GP’s office and ask to make an appointment. Alternatively, if you know the medication you need, you can use euroClinix’s online consultation service.

Why is smoking so addictive?

To understand how these two medications work, you should understand why smoking is so addictive.

Did you know, in England alone, 60% of smokers want to quit?

We all know the cause of this addiction is nicotine. But how exactly does nicotine affect the brain? Well, nicotine works to artificially “reward” your brain. It triggers the production of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that plays an essential role in decision making.

When you experience a release of dopamine, usually when you have successfully completed a task or had a pleasurable moment, you feel good, encouraging the repetition of the behaviour. You mentally crave this dopamine. This is a naturally advantageous response as it is associated with the sourcing of food and water and other essential jobs.

Nicotine mirrors the effects of a natural compound called acetylcholine that triggers dopamine production. However, after every “hit”, there is a period of downtime where the nicotine receptors in your brain cannot produce dopamine. This leads to smokers attempting to artificially replicate the feelings of euphoria, increasing dependency on cigarettes.

Nicotine also encourages the production of epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenaline, in the adrenal glands. Its effects include raising blood pressure, heart rate and increasing your breathing. This hormone makes you feel an “adrenaline rush” and is equally addictive.

How does Champix work?

Champix (also sold as Chantix in the US) contains the active ingredient varenicline. Varenicline works in a similar way to nicotine, it contacts nicotinic receptors in your brain, triggering the release of dopamine. However, varenicline is considerably less potent than nicotine, which means it reduces the volume of dopamine released as well as the intensity of cravings. This helps you to wean yourself off tobacco. You will also find the withdrawal effects from not smoking, like irritation and anxiety, are reduced with Champix.

You should not stop smoking as soon as you take Champix. You should set a quit date. Continue to smoke for seven days while simultaneously taking the tablets, before stopping smoking. A course will normally last 12 weeks, with between one and two pills taken every day.

For Champix to work, you have to want to stop smoking. It won’t do all the work for you.

How does Zyban work?

Zyban is an extended-release antidepressant. Along with smoking cessation, it is also prescribed for depression* (as Wellbutrin) and obesity (in combination with another medication). The active ingredient of Zyban is bupropion. Bupropion affects the neurotransmitters in your brain, inhibiting the reuptake of the chemicals dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in your synapses. By remaining active in your brain for longer, these three chemicals prevent the return of nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as irritation, bad mood and (most importantly) cravings.

Other antidepressants, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), target the hormone serotonin - Zyban is unique in its targeting of dopamine. However, as mentioned, dopamine is the hormone most influenced by nicotine and is a key proponent in the “reward centre” of your brain.

Every tablet of Zyban contains 150mg of bupropion hydrochloride. Just as with Champix, you should take Zyban before stopping smoking and then continue with the tablets only. For Zyban however, you should smoke until the end of the second week.

On days one to three of the first week, you should take one tablet. On day four, you should increase to two tablets a day, spaced eight hours apart. Continue taking two tablets per day until you complete your course - this is usually seven weeks, however, may be extended with the medical advice of a doctor.

*In the USA.

Which medication is better for me?

It’s impossible to say what medication is better for an individual without them having undergone a consultation with a healthcare professional. Your medical conditions, medications and current health and age all play a role in what will be the most effective and safe treatment.

If you don’t want to book an appointment with your GP, you can always use an online doctor and pharmacy service. euroClinix has an easy-to-complete consultation form and review service. Simply head to the Champix or Zyban product pages and go to the checkout.

One of the ways of deciding if a medication is right for you, is to gauge your reaction to it to see if you experience any adverse effects.

Champix and Zyban share the following common side effects:

  • constipation
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • gastrointestinal discomfort
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • skin reactions
  • sleep disorders

Side effects of Champix

  • appetite changes
  • asthenia (fatigue)
  • chest pain
  • diarrhoea
  • drowsiness
  • joint disorders
  • muscle complaints
  • oral disorders
  • pain
  • weight gain

Side effects of Zyban

  • abdominal pain;
  • anxiety
  • concentration difficulties
  • fever
  • hyperhidrosis
  • hypersensitivity
  • changes in taste
  • tremor

Both these medications have undergone rigorous clinical trials, are US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NHS-approved, have very similar success rates and are well-complemented by nicotine replacement therapies (e.g. nicotine patch). For more information on their mild and serious side effects, precautions and effects, you should visit your doctor. There is also a wealth of information available online. Always do your research before starting with a new medication.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Donald MRCGP DFSRH DPD DRCOG Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 06-10-2021
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