Why quitting can seem so hard
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Smoking tobacco is both a psychological habit and a physical addiction. The act of smoking is ingrained as a daily ritual and, at the same time, the nicotine from cigarettes provides a temporary, and addictive, high. Eliminating that regular fix of nicotine will cause your body to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings. To successfully quit smoking, you’ll need to address both the habit and the addiction by changing your behavior and dealing with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Relieving unpleasant and overwhelming feelings without cigarettes
Managing unpleasant feelings such as stress, depression, loneliness, fear, and anxiety are some of the most common reasons why adults smoke. When you have a bad day, it can seem like cigarettes are your only friend. Smoking can temporarily make feelings such as sadness, stress, anxiety, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air. As much comfort as cigarettes provide, though, it’s important to remember that there are healthier (and more effective) ways to keep unpleasant feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.
For many people, an important aspect of quitting smoking is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings without smoking. Even when cigarettes are no longer a part of your life, the painful and unpleasant feelings that may have prompted you to smoke in the past will still remain. So, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different ways you intend to deal with stressful situations and the daily irritations that would normally have you reaching for a cigarette.
Ways to create your personal stop smoking plan
Designing your personal game plan
Tailoring a personal game plan to your specific needs and desires can be a big help. List the reasons why you want to quit and then keep copies of the list in the places where you’d normally keep your cigarettes, such as in your jacket, purse, or car. Your reasons for quitting smoking might include:
- I will feel healthier and have more energy, whiter teeth, and fresher breath.
- I will lower my risk for cancer, heart attacks, strokes, early death, cataracts, and skin wrinkling.
- I will make myself and my partner, friends, and family proud of me.
- I will no longer expose my children and others to the dangers of my second-hand smoke.
- I will have a healthier baby (If you or your partner is pregnant).
- I will have more money to spend.
- I won't have to worry: "When will I get to smoke next?"
Source: Smokefree.gov Online Quit Guide
Questions to ask yourself
To successfully detach from smoking, you will need to identify and address your smoking habits, the true nature of your dependency, and the techniques that work for you. These types of questions can help:
- Do you feel the need to smoke at every meal?
- Are you more of a social smoker?
- Is it a very bad addiction (more than a pack a day)? Or would a simple nicotine patch do the job?
- Is your cigarette smoking linked to other addictions, such as alcohol or gambling?
- Are you open to hypnotherapy and/or acupuncture?
- Are you someone who is open to talking about your addiction with a therapist or counselor?
- Are you interested in getting into a fitness program?
Take the time to think of what kind of smoker you are, which moments of your life call for a cigarette, and why. This will help you to identify which tips, techniques or therapies may be most beneficial for you.
Start your stop smoking plan with START
S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you'll face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
How to quit smoking and manage cravings
After quitting, you may feel dizzy, restless, or even have strong headaches because you’re lacking the immediate release of sugar that comes from nicotine. You may also have a bigger appetite. These sugar-related cravings should only last a few days until your body adjusts so keep your sugar levels a bit higher than usual on those days by drinking plenty of juice (unless you’re a diabetic). It will help prevent the craving symptoms and help your body re-adjust back to normal.
Tips for managing other cigarette cravings
Cravings associated with meals
For some smokers, ending a meal means lighting up, and the prospect of giving that up may appear daunting. TIP: replace that moment after a meal with something such as a piece of fruit, a (healthy) dessert, a square of chocolate, or a stick of gum.
Alcohol and cigarettes
Many people have a habit of smoking when they have an alcoholic drink. TIP: try non-alcoholic drinks, or try drinking only in places where smoking inside is prohibited. Or try snacking on nuts and chips, or chewing on a straw or cocktail stick.
Cravings associated with social smoking
When friends, family, and co-workers smoke around you, it is doubly difficult to quit or avoid relapse. TIP: Your social circles need to know that you are changing your habits so talk about your decision to quit. Let them know they won’t be able to smoke when you’re in the car with them or taking a coffee break together.
In your workplace, don’t take all your coffee breaks with smokers only, do something else instead, or find non-smokers to have your breaks with.
Additional tips to deal with cravings and withdrawal symptoms
- Stay active: Keep yourself distracted and occupied, go for walks.
- Keep your hands/fingers busy: Squeeze balls, pencils, or paper clips are good substitutes to satisfy that need for tactile stimulation.
- Keep your mind busy: Read a book or magazine, listen to some music you love.
- Find an oral substitute: Keep other things around to pop in your mouth when you’re craving a cigarette.
- Good choices include mints, hard candy, carrot or celery sticks, gum, and sunflower seeds.
- Drink lots of water: Flushing toxins from your body minimizes withdrawal symptoms and helps cravings pass faster.
Keep a craving journal
For the first week or so of quitting, make entries into a log book to monitor your daily progress. Note the moments in your life when you crave a cigarette as these are your triggers to smoking. Are there certain people or environments that trigger your cravings? If you smoke, how does it make you feel? Jot down some other things you can do to feel the same way. Later, when you’re having a bad day, you’ll be able to look back at the comments you wrote in week one to get perspective on how far you’ve come.
Get support from others
Let your friends and family in on your plan to quit smoking and tell them you need their support and encouragement to stop. Look for a quit buddy who wants to stop smoking as well. You can help each other get through the rough times.
Keep the pounds off
Weight gain is a common concern when quitting smoking. While it’s true that many smokers put on weight when they stop smoking, the gain is usually small, on average 3-5 pounds. Weight gain occurs because the oral gratification of smoking is replaced by the self-soothing mechanism of eating. To maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to find other, healthy ways to deal with stress and other unpleasant feelings rather than mindless eating. Eating a healthy diet and staying active can help you maintain your current weight.
Manage changes in mood
Mood changes are common after quitting smoking as a result of nicotine withdrawal. They will be especially pronounced if you have been using cigarettes to manage your moods and relieve stress, depression, or anxiety, for example. After quitting, you may be more irritable, frustrated, restless, angry, or despondent than usual. You may also experience headaches, trouble sleeping, and difficulty in concentrating. However, these changes usually get better in 1 or 2 weeks as the toxins are flushed from your body and you find other, healthy ways to manage your moods. Let your friends and family know that you won’t be your usual self and ask for their understanding.
Finding the resources and support to quit smoking
There are many different methods that have successfully helped people to quit smoking, including:
- Quitting smoking cold turkey.
- Systematically decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke.
- Reducing your intake of nicotine gradually over time.
- Using nicotine replacement therapy or non-nicotine medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Utilizing nicotine support groups.
- Trying hypnosis, acupuncture, or counseling using cognitive behavioral techniques.
You may be successful with the first method you try. More likely, you’ll have to try a number of different methods or a combination of treatments to find the ones that work best for you.
Smoking cessation medications can ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, and are most effective when used as part of a comprehensive stop smoking program monitored by your physician. Talk to your doctor about your options and whether an anti-smoking medication is right for you. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved options are:
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Nicotine replacement therapy involves "replacing" cigarettes with other nicotine substitutes, such as nicotine gum or a nicotine patch. It works by delivering small and steady doses of nicotine into the body to relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms without the tars and poisonous gases found in cigarettes. This type of treatment helps smokers focus on breaking their psychological addiction and makes it easier to concentrate on learning new behaviors and coping skills.
These medications help you stop smoking by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms without the use of nicotine. Medications such as bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) are intended for short-term use only.
There are several things you can do to stop smoking that don’t involve nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medications: Ask your doctor for a referral or see Resources and References below for help finding qualified professionals in each area.
A popular option that has produced good results. Forget anything you may have seen from stage hypnotists, hypnosis works by getting you into a deeply relaxed state where you are open to suggestions that strengthen your resolve to quit smoking and increase your negative feelings toward cigarettes.
One of the oldest known medical techniques, acupuncture is believed to work by triggering the release of endorphins (natural pain relievers) that allow the body to relax. As a smoking cessation aid, acupuncture can be helpful in managing smoking withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine addiction is related to the habitual behaviors (the “rituals”) involved in smoking. Behavior therapy focuses on learning new coping skills and breaking those habits.
Self-help books and websites can provide a number of ways to motivate yourself to quit smoking. One well known example is calculating the monetary savings. Some people have been able to find the motivation to quit just by calculating how much money they will save. It may be enough to pay for a summer vacation.
It’s important to remember that you cannot make a friend or loved one quit smoking; the decision has to be theirs. But if they do make the decision to stop smoking, you can offer support and encouragement and try to ease the stress of quitting. Investigate the different treatment options available and talk them through with the smoker; just be careful never to preach or judge. You can also help a smoker overcome cravings by pursuing other activities with him or her, and by keeping smoking substitutes, such as gum and candy, on hand.
If a loved one slips or relapses, don’t make them feel guilty. Congratulate them on the time they went without smoking and encourage them to try again. Most smokers require several attempts to successfully quit for good.
Parents of teen smokers
Most smokers try their first cigarette around the age of 11, and many are addicted by the time they turn 14. This can be worrying parents or guardians, but it’s important to appreciate the unique challenges and peer pressure teens face when it comes to quitting smoking. While the decision to quit has to come from the teen smoker him- or herself, there are still plenty of ways for you to help.
Tips for parents of teen smokers
- Try to avoid threats and ultimatums. Find out why your teen is smoking; he or she may want to be accepted by a peer group, or want your attention. Talk about what changes can be made in his or her life to help them stop smoking.
- Be patient and supportive as your child goes through the quitting process.
- Set a good example for your kids by not smoking yourself. Parents who smoke are more likely to have children who smoke.
- Know if your children have friends that smoke. Talk with your kids about ways to refuse a cigarette.
- Explain the health dangers, as well as the unpleasant physical aspects of smoking (such as bad breath, discolored teeth and nails).
- Establish a smoke-free policy in your home. Don't allow anyone to smoke indoors at any time.
Source: American Lung Association
Smokeless or spit tobacco is NOT a healthy alternative to smoking
Smokeless tobacco, otherwise known as spit tobacco, is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. It contains the same addictive chemical, nicotine, contained in cigarettes. In fact, the amount of nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco can be 3 to 4 times the amount delivered by a cigarette.
What to do if you relapse
Quitting smoking didn’t work, now what?
Having a small setback doesn’t mean you’re a smoker again. Most people try to quit smoking several times before they kick the habit for good. Identify the triggers or trouble spots you ran into and learn from your mistakes.
- You’re not a failure if you slip up. It doesn't mean you can't quit for good.
- Don’t let a slip become a mudslide. Throw out the rest of the pack. It's important to get back on the non-smoking track now.
- Look back at your quit log and feel good about the time you went without smoking.
- Find the trigger. Exactly what was it that made you smoke again? Decide how you will cope with that issue the next time it comes up.
- Learn from your experience. What has been most helpful? What didn’t work?
- Are you using a medicine to help you quit? Call your doctor if you start smoking again. Some medicines cannot be used if you are smoking at the same time.
Free Toolkit Program
Resources & References
Helpguide’s Yellow Pages
Resources for public assistance, social services, and other health and human services.
Ways to Quit Smoking and Stop-Smoking Plans
Online Guide to Quitting – Step-by-step guide to quitting describes how to make a plan to quit, cope with cravings, manage withdrawal symptoms, and avoid relapse. (Smokefree.gov)
Guide to Quitting Smoking – Ways to improve your chances of quitting smoking. (American Cancer Society)
Helpful Hints to Kick the Smoking Habit – Provides advice on how to successfully quit smoking. Includes a list of smoke-free suggestions. (University of Maryland Medical Center)
Quit Meter – Calculate how much extra money you’ll have after quitting. (quitmeter.org)
Quit Smoking with Acupuncture – How acupuncture can reduce cravings and alleviate withdrawal symptoms to help you quit smoking. (Acupuncture Referral Service Acufinder.com)
Not On Tobacco – A quit smoking program designed to help teen smokers kick the habit. (American Lung Association)
Your First Step to Change: Smoking – Self-change toolkit helps smokers learn about their addiction and take steps to overcome it. (The Division on Addictions, Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School)
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)Alternatives
Medicines To Help You Quit Smoking – Provides an overview of medicines to help you quit, including Nicotine Alternatives. (American Heart Association)
Preventing Weight Gain after Quitting
You Can Control Your Weight as You Quit Smoking – Provides suggestions for what to do before, during, and after quitting smoking to prevent weight gain. (National Institutes of Health)
Coping with Nicotine Cravings and Withdrawal
Help For Cravings and Tough Situations – A list of tips to cope with cigarette cravings. (American Cancer Society)
Nicotine Dependence Coping Skills – A comprehensive guide to developing alternative coping strategies when quitting smoking. (Mayo Clinic)
Support for Smoking Cessation
Quitlines – Call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) to get the number of your local quitline. (North American Quitline Consortium)
Smoking Cessation Programs – Searchable database of smoking cessation programs that you can locate by state or zip code. Also offers links to free support groups. (Quitnet)
Freedom From Smoking® Online – Provides a seven module program that supports you and walks you through a smoking cessation program. (American Lung Association)
Nicotine Anonymous Meetings – Search for local meetings of Nicotine Anonymous, a 12-Step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. (Nicotine Anonymous)
Tips for Friends and Family
Helping A Smoker Quit: Do's and Don'ts – Provides a general list of “do’s and don’ts” for supporting someone who is quitting smoking. (American Cancer Society)
How Can I Help My Friends and Family (PDF) – Describes appropriate ways to help a friend or family member who is quitting smoking. (California Smokers’ Helpline)