Quitting smoking is one of the most daunting challenges you may face in your life. It is an addiction that is both physical and psychological. However, quitting smoking can be done. In fact, you will join the company of millions of Americans who are former smokers.
There are plenty of reasons to quit when you consider smoking's link to lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. Smoking also has harmful effects on your family, like exposing your family members to dangerous second-hand smoke. By being a smoker, you may also increase the chances that your children will follow your example become smokers.
You have seen the warnings. You have received the advice. You have listened to your kids nag you about it. You know you should quit smoking, but it's hard to know where to start. Knowing what you are up against can help you form a successful plan to quit.
The Mind and Body Connection
Smoking is addictive—both physically and psychologically. The physical addiction can be traced to the nicotine in each cigarette. It hooks you just as completely as other drugs. The withdrawal symptoms—cravings, anxiety, nausea, depression, and lightheadedness—are similar.
Nicotine surges through the bloodstream and gives smokers a high—a quick jolt that makes them think they feel better. What really happens is that smokers develop a tolerance for nicotine, which is why they tend to increase the amount of cigarettes they smoke each day.
The psychological addiction is, in its own way, just as bad. Smoking becomes second nature, like blinking or breathing. If you consider that 1 pack of cigarettes can turn into 150 to 200 puffs a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, you will see how hard it is to de-program yourself.
The Key to Quitting
There is no easy way to quit, but there are ways to make the experience more tolerable. Do not be discouraged if it takes many attempts before you kick the habit.
The key to quitting, is patience, perseverance, and having a plan.
How to Do It
Keep these points in mind when you quit:
Know Why You Are Quitting
Pick a reason that you believe in, be it for your family or for yourself. If you do not believe in your reason, it is that much harder to quit.
Take it One Day at a Time
Worry about not smoking for just 1 day, and not for the rest of your life. Besides, it gets easier to stave off the desire the longer you do not smoke. The nicotine will soon leave your system, and the worst of the withdrawal symptoms will go away.
Some quitters achieve their goal by quitting all at once. However, there are many other options, like slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.
Whether you gradually taper or quit cold, your goal must be the same: abstinence. If you choose to taper, do not let the process give you an excuse to delay the final step of quitting entirely. Set a quit day and stick to it.
Change Your Environment
Think about the things that lead to lighting up, and do not do them. Get rid of the ashtrays at home. Do not come back from lunch 15 minutes early to sneak in a cigarette break. Avoid places where smoking is part of the atmosphere.
Practice the Three D's
Delay; deep breathing; drink water. When you feel like a smoke, delay. Try to think of something else. Breathe deeply, and count to 10 slowly as you do so. Drink plenty of water. It helps flush the nicotine out of your system. Do something else, like chew gum, until the craving passes.
Keep a Diary
This technique, which has also been used effectively with people who eat too much, is surprisingly effective. Each time you feel like a cigarette, write down the time of day, what you are doing, and how badly you want to smoke on a scale of 1 to 3, with 1 for the worst craving. A diary helps you to learn to unlearn the responses that make you want to smoke.
You may want to talk with your doctor about medicines that are available to help with smoking cessation. One example is varenicline. It helps by blocking the pleasant effects that nicotine causes on the brain.
In addition to varenicline, there are a range of other medicines available to help you quit smoking. Examples include nicotine replacement products, which may be in the form of chewing gum, lozenge, nasal spray, or patches; and an antidepressant called bupropion.
Based on the research available so far, it appears that varenicline works better than placebo and bupropion. However, taking varenicline has been associated with some side effects. The most frequently reported include nausea, headache, insomnia, and unusual dreams. Varenicline and bupropion may also increase the risk of serious mood and behavior changes.
While medicines may be a good option for you, these are definitely not a magic cure. You still need to be committed to quitting.
Work with Your Doctor
For the best results, work with your doctor. Together, you can test your lung function and compare the results to those of a non-smoking person. The results can be given to you as your lung age. Finding out your lung age may help you to stop smoking.
Your doctor can also talk with you about your options, such as:
- Over-the-counter nicotine patches, gum and lozenges, which may be used alone or in combination
- Prescription nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays
- Prescription medicines
- Alternative therapies like hypnosis and acupuncture
- Smoking cessation classes
- Group therapy
- Self-help programs—For example, web and computer-based programs are an option. You can find many programs online, like the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking program. There are also telephone quit lines, cell phone programs, and text messaging programs. To learn more about these options, visit Smokefree.gov.
Trying a combination of these options may work best for you. For example, using a nicotine patch and going to group therapy may help you to become smoke-free.
Reward Yourself for Succeeding
Quitting is hard. You deserve a reward for meeting short-term goals, such as being smoke-free for 1 week, 2 weeks, or a month. Give yourself something you really want but have been putting off getting. Remember how much money you are saving by not buying cigarettes!
American Lung Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association
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Last reviewed February 2018 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 2/15/2018