- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
Quit Smoking With a Vengeance
I am sure many of you have attempted to quit smoking, only to later pick up another cigarette. I personally lost track of my attempts. Or perhaps you are a witness to someone you love that just can’t seem to kick the habit for good. For many that attempt to quit, it seems they return to smoke more than before. It is as if they are smoking with a vengeance! This is very often do to frustration over not being able to kick the habit for good. Statistics show that only about 14% to 17% are able to quit smoking without medicines or other types of help. While those low numbers seem very discouraging, it is encouraging to know there are many types of help out there that greatly increase those numbers. Studies in medical journals have reported that about 25% of smokers who use medicines can stay smoke free for over 6 months. Counseling on top of medicines can boost success rates even higher. There is also evidence that combining certain medicines may work better than using a single drug. Behavioral and supportive therapies may increase success rates even further and work to help individuals stay smoke-free.
Why do so many fail at quitting?
First and foremost, nicotine is a psychoactive drug. There are researchers out there that feel it is as addictive as heroin. It has been proven that nicotine has actions similar to cocaine and heroin in the same area of the brain. Depending on the amount of nicotine taken into the body, it can act as either a stimulant or a sedative. Most smokers enjoy that first cigarette of the day due to the way the brain responds to the day’s first nicotine rush. Studies show that nicotine increases dopamine, a chemical in the brain that releases pleasurable sensations. This sensation is similar to achieving a reward. That first nicotine of the day is very effective in enhancing the activity of dopamine-sensitive neurons. As the day progresses, the nerve cells become desensitized to nicotine and smoking becomes less pleasurable. Smokers are then likely to increase their intake to get to the reward. Smokers develop tolerance to the effects very quickly, requiring higher levels of nicotine. This makes withdrawal a very difficult process.
Smoking tobacco is both a physical addition and a psychological habit. Therefore eliminating that regular fix of nicotine causes the body to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Because of the feel good effect on the brain, many have become accustomed to smoking as a way of coping with stress, depression, anxiety or even boredom. At the same time the simple act of smoking is often ingrained as a daily ritual. It is quite often an automatic response to smoke with coffee, or while taking a break from work or school. If you have friends, family members or colleagues who smoke, smoking is often a part of the way you relate with them. To successfully quit smoking it is imperative to address both the addition and the habits and routines that go with it.
Even those who have been successful at quitting, still have occasional cravings for cigarettes after years of not smoking. Studies show that more than 70% of all smokers have a desire to quit. Of those a third have tried seriously within the past year, while only 6% succeeded. People who keep trying, however have a 50% chance of finally quitting. In any case attempts to quit are never a waste of time because the amount of smoking is always reduced during the attempts.
Researchers continue to discover the conditions or sets of behaviors that can predict why so many people fail to quit. Unfortunately from one study to the next, no consistent behaviors have emerged regarding gender, race, profession, or other such traits. However there was one consistent predictor. Almost everyone who cheated during the first two weeks of quitting was smoking again within six months. While those who didn’t cheat during the first two weeks had a much higher success rate. The huge downfall to that is that those who quit and start again may damage their lungs even worse than people that have not made an attempt to quit. Experts suggest this is due to the fact that those who start again are more strongly addicted then other smokers. Additionally they often inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in longer after going for a period of not smoking. It’s not that quitting smoking is more dangerous than not smoking, the key is to not start back up!
Understanding the benefits to quitting are essential to being a successful ex-smoker.
Most know that smoking is greatly responsible for lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease, but there are far more, less known dangers lurking in every cigarette. Smoking puts into effect a vicious cycle of artery damage, clotting and increased risk of stroke, causing mental decline. In the elderly years, mental decline is up to five times faster in smokers then nonsmokers. There is substantial evidence that chronic tobacco use is harmful to the brain.
Smoking cigarettes also raised the risk of developing lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, pain and tissue damage throughout the body. Smoking also causes other autoimmune diseases such as Chron’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself from infection and disease. Smoking compromises the immune system, making it less able to fight off infections and disease. Therefore smokers are more likely to develop respiratory infections. Recently smoking has also been linked to type 2 diabetes. Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to develop this adult-onset diabetes then nonsmokers. Additionally the more cigarettes an individual smokes, the higher the risk.
Now let’s consider the damage to bones. Recent studies show a direct relationship between tobacco use and decreased bone density. Significant bone loss has been found in older women and men who smoke. Smoking lowers the level of estrogen in your body, putting individuals at a higher risk of osteoporosis. Quitting smoking reduces the risk for low bone mass and fractures.
Smoking greatly affects the heart and blood vessels. The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm the blood cells and damage the function of the heart. This damage increases the risk for cardiovascular diseases. Smoking increases the risk of a heart attack, chest pain, high blood pressure and increased plaque build up in the arteries. Increased risk of stoke is also a factor in smoking. Breathing tobacco smoke actually changes your blood chemistry while damaging your blood vessels. As you inhale smoke, cells that line your body’s blood vessels react to its chemicals, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to go up as your blood vessels thicken and narrow.
Smoking greatly affects lungs and breathing. Every cigarette damages breathing and scars the lungs, causing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema and chronic bronchitis. All of which make it very difficult to breath. Risk of pneumonia, asthma and tuberculosis are also increased with each cigarette. The biggest risk of smoking is by far cancer. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, of which 70 of them are known to cause cancer. Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, but as described above affects your entire body. Beyond lung cancer, smoking is known to cause cancer in the trachea, esophagus, oral cavity, nasopharynx, nasal cavity, larynx, stomach, bladder, pancreas, kidney, liver, and colon.
With so many dangers out there it seems would be very easy to kick the habit for good. However not the case. I again speak from experience. I found myself switching to light cigarettes thinking that was helping. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Any kind of cigarette increases the risks for the above medical risks. Many smokers think menthol cigarettes are less harmful, again this is a myth. Cigarettes are harmful, whatever brand they are. If anything menthol cigarettes are shown to be more addictive. So it’s imperative to get the idea of a safe cigarette out of your head.
The Good News
The good news is that the body can repair itself after quitting. Some changes happen quickly. 20 minutes after quitting your heart rate and blood pressure drop. By 12 hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Two to three weeks after quitting your circulation improves and your lung function increases. One to nine months after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. The lungs function improve, reducing the risk of infection. After a yea, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker. By five years, the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a nonsmoker, as does the risk of stroke. Ten years smoke free reduces the risk of lung cancer to about half that of a person still smoking. By fifteen years the risk coronary heart disease is equal to that of a non-smoker. Obviously quitting while you are younger reduces your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would have been lost of continuing to smoke.
Kicking the Habit
While some smokers are able to quit cold turkey, most do better with some type of plan to keep them on track. The first step is to identify what type of smoker you are. When do you most feel the need to light up? Are you more of an occasional social drinker or a pack or more a day smoker? Do you reach for cigarettes when you are feeling down or stressed. Are there certain activities linked with smoking? For example happy hour, golfing or others? It is important to recognize the specific things that make you want to smoke.
Keeping a journal can help uncover your specific patterns and triggers. Keep a log of your smoking and note the specific moments of your cravings. Note the time, intensity of the craving, what you were doing, who you were with, how you were feeling and how you felt after smoking.
Managing feelings of stress, depression, loneliness, fear and anxiety are common reasons why people smoke. However as much comfort as cigarettes might provide, it’s important to remember there are healthier and more effective ways to deal with those feelings. Exercise, meditation, and simple breathing exercises can work wonders. Therefore an important aspect of quitting smoking is to find alternative ways to deal with unpleasant feelings other than smoking.
In addition to preparing for dealing with feelings, you must also recognize and prepare for smoking triggers. Alcohol is a big one as many people have a habit of smoking when they drink. Try switching to non-alcoholic drinks or try snacking on something healthy with your drink. Simply chewing on a straw or cocktail stick can combat the habit of lighting up with your drink.
Another major trigger is other smokers. Let people around you in on the fact that you are quitting. Ask them not to smoke around you. When they do smoke excuse yourself to do something else. Take a brief walk and quite possibly your positive behavior will impact those individuals as well.
Meals are another trigger point. I found myself lighting up after every meal and the thought of giving that up was quite daunting. The best thing to do is replace that moment with something else. Chocolate worked for me. Of course only in moderation as over indulging in sweets quickly leads to other problems.
Avoiding the triggers will help reduce the urge to smoke. However it is impossible to avoid cravings entirely. Fortunately cravings don’t last long, so if tempted to light up, remember that the craving will pass and you can wait it out. Distracting yourself with cleaning, or taking a shower, or even watching tv can help take your mind off the craving. Often a simple change of scenery can make the difference. Most importantly remind yourself why you want to quit and focus on that. Reward yourself every time you are able to fight off a craving.
Coping with Cigarette Cravings in the Moment
Find an oral substitute
Keep other things around to pop in your mouth when cravings hit. Good choices include mints, hard candy, carrot or celery sticks, gum, and sunflower seeds.
Keep your mind busy
Read a book or magazine, listen to some music you love, do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, or play an online game.
Keep your hands busy
Squeeze balls, pencils, or paper clips are good substitutes to satisfy that need for tactile stimulation.
Brush your teeth
The just-brushed, clean feeling can help get rid of cigarette cravings.
Slowly drink a large, cold glass of water. Not only will it help the craving pass, but staying hydrated helps minimize the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
Light something else
Instead of lighting a cigarette, light a candle or some incense.
Go for a walk, do some jumping jacks or pushups, try some yoga stretches, or run around the block.
Try to relax
Do something that calms you down, such as taking a warm bath, meditating, reading a book, or practicing deep breathing exercises.
Once you quit smoking you are likely to experience a number of physical symptoms as your body withdraws from nicotine. Being prepared for these is critical. Nicotine withdrawal begins very quickly starting within the hour of the last cigarette and peaking about 2 to 3 days later. Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks, depending on the individual.
Common withdrawal symptoms Include:
- Cigarette cravings
- Irritability, frustration, or anger
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Increased coughing
- Constipation or upset stomach
- Decreased heart rate
As very unpleasant as these are, remember they are only temporary and the benefits will quickly outweigh the unpleasantness. These symptoms will improve as the toxins are flushed from your body. Ensure that people around you know you are quitting and to expect some slight differences in you over the next several days.
Coping with Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms
Craving for a cigarette
Most intense during first week but can linger for months
Wait out the urge; distract yourself; take a brisk walk.
Two to four weeks
Exercise; take hot baths; use relaxation techniques; avoid caffeine.
Two to four weeks
Avoid caffeine after 6 p.m.; use relaxation techniques; exercise; plan activities (such as reading) when sleep is difficult.
Two to four weeks
Take naps; do not push yourself.
Lack of concentration
A few weeks
Reduce workload; avoid stress.
Several weeks or longer
Drink water or low-calorie drinks; eat low-calorie snacks.
Coughing, dry throat, nasal drip
Drink plenty of fluids; use cough drops.
One to two weeks
Drink plenty of fluids; add fiber to diet; exercise.
There are many other methods that have helped people to quit smoking. Some have been successful at systematically decreasing the number of cigarettes smoked. While others have opted for nicotine replacement therapy which replaces cigarettes with other nicotine substitutes such as the gum or the patch. These work by delivering small amounts of nicotine without all the tars and poisoness gases to help smokers break the psychological addiction and concentrate on learning new behaviors. Non-nicotine medication can also be very helpful in reducing the cravings and withdrawal symptoms, such as Zyban and Chantix. Hypnosis is a popular option with good results working to create negative feelings toward cigarettes. Acupuncture can be effective in managing smoking withdrawals. While many opt for behavioral or motivational therapy. Motivational therapy was effective for me as I was quickly able to add up the savings by not spending so much on the ever increasing costs of cigarettes. It is possibly to be successful with the first method chosen, however many people try a couple of methods and find the best for them.
Don't Give Up
Most people try to quit smoking several times before kicking the habit for good. While the bad effects of smoking are so apparent, don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself relapsing. Simply learn from your mistake and determine what made you start back up. Develop a new plan around your relapse. Having small setbacks doesn’t mean you are a failure or that you can’t quit for good. Don’t let any slip become a complete backslide. Get immediately back on the non-smoking track. Feel good about the time you didn’t smoke and remind yourself why you want to quit for good. Take it from one who knows, it is a very difficult task, but one you will continue to benefit from for the rest of your life.