Tobacco: a hard habit to break

Smokers know smoking is unhealthy. But putting off quitting may seem easier than putting up with the pain of withdrawal and the fear of saying goodbye to a longtime love-hate relationship with cigarettes. Nicotine addiction coupled with smoking’s psychological hold and ritualistic associations make quitting a scary, unwelcome proposition. Even if you want to quit, you may find yourself short on motivation.

So what’s a smoker to do?

Find a reason – a personal, meaningful reason —to kick the habit for good. Whether it’s your children, your mortality or to reward yourself with that trip to Europe you’ve always wanted to take – make sure your reason has a strong, personal connection to why putting down cigarettes would enhance your life. When the window of opportunity opens, it’s up to you to leap through.

The replacements

Going cold turkey may seem noble, but it’s not likely to yield success in the long run. Nicotine – long thought of as more addictive than heroin or cocaine – produces a high and reinforces dependence. But the added chemicals that make up a cigarette – the carcinogens that are released and ingested when a cigarette is burning – are most harmful to the body. Nicotine replacement therapy, then, is preferable to continuing to smoke. Using a nicotine patch or gum, or both, can be an effective means to curbing the deeply embedded physical and psychological desire to smoke.

If you’re trying to quit, you’re likely to feel restless, irritable and depressed. Withdrawal can be severe if you’re coming off cigarettes. Lozenges, gum or patches combined with counseling around quitting can double your chances of success. And if those interventions aren’t working for you, consider prescription medication to assist you in quitting.

Accept help

White-knuckling the quitting process without asking for help may knock you off your game sooner than you think. Tell your family and friends you are quitting. Ask for support from those who are willing to be compassionate and non-judgmental. And consider enlisting the help of a counselor or therapist who can work with you to develop successful stop-smoking strategies.

Give peace a chance

Where possible, don’t put yourself in stressful situations. If certain people, places or things tend to elevate your blood pressure, leave them alone while you’re vulnerable. Consider putting in place other stress-relieving activities, such as massage, martial arts, yoga or reading – whatever brings you peace.

Not convinced that anything else can relieve your stress quite as well as cigarettes? It’s bunk. Contrary to the notion that cigarettes relieve stress, they actually increase long-term stress levels. The only short-term stress relief that cigarettes provide is curbing withdrawal symptoms between smokes.

Get trigger happy

For some, coffee or cocktails are inextricably linked to smoking. If this is the case for you, think about avoiding or at least reducing your alcohol and coffee intake for the first few weeks off cigarettes. The post-meal cigarette is also a major trigger for many smokers, so you’ll want to find something else to do after breakfast, lunch or dinner, such as brushing your teeth, taking a walk or chewing gum.

Identify your triggers. And then begin – perhaps even before quitting – to take smoking out of the equation. Have a glass of wine without smoking. Drive to and from work without lighting up. Take the dog for a walk without your pack of smokes in your jacket. Chew gum instead while talking on the phone.

The cold, hard realities

Yes, you’ll probably miss smoking. And yes, quitting is hard. Nicotine is a powerful drug, the benefits of which no one wants to herald. Nicotine improves reaction time, memory and concentration. With each drag off a cigarette, the brain is flooded with dopamine and other neurochemicals that reach the brain’s pleasure centers. The message your brain sends under the spell of nicotine is that it needs more.

But with your nicotine comes all those carcinogens that cause cancer. Of the more than 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, at least 250 of them have been found to be harmful.

Smoking is a leading cause of cancer. In the United States, tobacco use contributes to one in five deaths annually – or about 443,000 deaths per year. And smokers die, on average, 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Try, try again

Initial failure is sometimes part of the quitting process. Letting go of cigarettes entirely and for good is likely one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Most people who try to quit will do so as many as 10 times before cigarettes are truly a thing of their past. Don’t let a relapse discourage you from trying again. Set a new quit date within a month’s time.