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Are Rage and Depression Side Effects of Chantix?

No question about it: smoking is terrible for your health. Heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other malignancies and premature death are all more common among people who smoke tobacco. That is why your doctor asks if you are a smoker and offers a prescription to help you quit if you are. The most likely prescription is varenicline (Chantix). What should you know about the side effects of Chantix?

Suffering from Side Effects of Chantix:

Q. I wanted to quit smoking so my doctor prescribed Chantix. The bad dreams and depression made me question whether life was worth living.

I feared going out in public because I would sometimes fly into a rage for no obvious reason. I am a laid-back, even-tempered guy normally.

Even though I lost my urge to smoke, I wonder whether the side effects of Chantix are worth it. I am tapering off now, but the anxiety, rage and depression are still scary.

A. The manufacturer of the stop-smoking drug varenicline (Chantix) warns that it may cause insomnia, abnormal dreams, depression, agitation, aggression, hostility and panic as well as suicidal thoughts. This drug may not be appropriate for you.

Battle Over Warning Patients About the Side Effects of Chantix:

At one time, the FDA required the manufacturer to list such side effects in a “black box” prominent in the prescribing information. Needless to say, the company was unhappy about that, as it might discourage people from using the medication. Late in 2016, the maker convinced the agency that the black box could be removed. If only it were possible to remove the side effects themselves!

Anger Over Inadequate Side Effect Information:

Q. I am very angry about the way the FDA handled Chantix side effect information. My doctor was not aware that this drug could cause serious psychiatric side effects.

Thank God I kept my depression and suicidal thoughts (barely) under control. Believe me, it caused lasting damage to my relationships with my loved ones. As far as I can tell, the FDA focused far more on the benefits of this drug than on its serious risks.

A. There was once a black box warning about depression, agitation, hostility and suicidal thoughts associated with varenicline (Chantix). The FDA removed this box several years ago.

The maker of Chantix has recently recalled a dozen lots of this stop-smoking drug because they contained unacceptable levels of a probable carcinogen. Nitrosamines have turned up in a wide range of medications over the last few years. Chantix is just the latest example. This recall, like so many others, may be contributing to drug shortages in the US.

How Can You Quit Smoking?

We do encourage everyone not to smoke. Those who do should get help stopping. But varenicline might not be the best approach for everyone. Those with a tendency to depression might have the same terrible experience as the writer above. In addition, people who like an occasional drink might be disappointed that they should avoid alcohol while on Chantix.

Every smoker needs to find his or her own way to quit. Chantix will help some, but people should take it only with full knowledge of its side effects.

To learn more about other approaches to smoking cessation, people may want to consult a classic self-help book that is still in print: The No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way Guide to Quitting Smoking by the late Tom Ferguson, MD. Despite its age, its advice is still excellent.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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