Quitters can Fight Off Weight Gain

Smoking cessation can often result in weight gain but a drug for alcoholics may help

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Fear of weight gain is a common excuse given by many people as a reason why they don't want to quit smoking. But quitting smoking is vital for a healthy future. Maybe a drug used for alcoholism treatment can help?

A recent study followed 700 people making a quit-smoking attempt for 1 year. The women who took naltrexone gained less weight than the rest of the research group.

“When trying to stop smoking, women tend to gain more weight than men and to be more concerned about gaining that weight,” said lead author.

"Talk to your doctor for help quitting smoking."

Andrea C. King, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, led the investigation. Naltrexone has been used to treat alcohol, nicotine and opioid drug dependence by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.

Dr. King said, “Women who try to quit may be so worried about putting on weight in the process that they soon give up, and this is less commonly found in men. Adding naltrexone to standard treatment might help women get through that difficult period.”

For the study, 700 smokers were either given naltrexone or a placebo (fake pill) for 6-12 weeks after a quit attempt. All participants were treated with behavioral counseling for quitting smoking and nicotine patches for the first 4-6 weeks after the quit date. Everyone was weighed at the start of the trial, as well as 6 and 12 months later. At 6 months, 159 participants (23%)  tested negative for nicotine. At 12 months, 115 (16%) participants tested negative for nicotine.

Women taking naltrexone gained, on average, 7.3 lbs. after 6 months, compared to women taking the placebo, who gained, on average, 12.1 lbs.

Women taking naltrexone gained, on average, 13 lbs. after 12 months, compared to women taking the placebo, who gained, on average, 16.3 lbs.

The same results were not found in the men in the group.

Dr. King said, “Naltrexone has produced the most promising results to date for helping women who quit smoking gain less weight.”

“It is possible that the opioid blocker reduces women’s tendency to eat high fat and sweet foods when they quit smoking.”

Authors concluded, “The results provide evidence for naltrexone as the first pharmacotherapy to reduce post-smoking cessation weight gain among women.” Further studies should be conducted to replicate these findings.

This study was published in November in Biological Psychiatry. Funding was supported by grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence, the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Alcohol Clinical Trial was sponsored by various pharmaceutical companies. Authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 11, 2012
Last Updated:
February 12, 2013