Quitting smoking may be very tricky and sometimes it seems that it is mission impossible. Although there is a lot of information about harmful effects of tobacco smoke to the health of the smoker and the surrounding persons, there are still a lot of smokers.
There are some tips which may be helpful if you are that brave one who decided to become free from this unhealthy habit.
1. At the beginning you have to answer to yourself - why should I quit?
Besides great economic impact (just count how much money you will save every month!), there are obvious and proved benefits to your health, which apply also to people who already have smoking-related diseases. Ex-smokers live longer than people who keep smoking. Quitting smoking lowers the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease. So it is worth trying to stop.
2. Then decide how you will stop – immediately or over some time period?
Rather than abrupt cessation, smoking reduction appears to increase motivation to quit especially for heavy smokers. That was confirmed also in some scientific studies. When choosing to quit smoking you should clearly state to yourself that complete cessation remains the ultimate goal.
3. You have to know what you may expect the first days after stopping smoking.
When smokers try to cease or quit, the lack of nicotine in the blood may lead to withdrawal symptoms. It can be both physical (especially for heavy smokers) and mental (experienced almost by everybody). Physically, the body reacts to the absence of nicotine. Mentally, the smoker is faced with giving up a habit, which requires for a major change in behaviour and lifestyle, and this is the hardest thing to change.
Withdrawal symptoms usually peak about 2 to 3 days after the last cigarette and may last for a few days to up to several weeks.
They will get better every day that you stay tobacco-free.
Withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:
- Impatience and anger
- Anxiety and irritability, depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Constipation and gas
- Cough, dry mouth, sore throat, and nasal drip
- Chest tightness
You have to know that these symptoms are temporary and they certainly will disappear. If you avoid to re-start smoking during these days, you will be really proud of yourself and your strong will. If you fail and start smoking again, do not feel disappointed. You will try quitting next time – and then you will certainly succeed.
Fighting psychological dependence on nicotine:
- Many former smokers say a support of family and friends was very important during their quit attempt. Tell your friends about your plans to quit. Try to spend time with non-smokers and ex-smokers who support your efforts to quit.
- Cut down on alcohol, because all too often a cigarette and a drink are very closely linked.
- Look for different programs which are available in your country or city (almost all countries recognize smoking cessation as a priority in their health programs, so there are also some state initiatives for helping to stop smoking). Incentives in smoking cessation programs are used in several different forms. For instance, quit and win programs offer the chance to win large monetary or voucher prizes among smokers who enter cessation programs or are successful with such programs. These programs are similar to lotteries in which a large number of people may enter but only a few actually receive prizes. Anyway, it could be quite attractive way to stop smoking!
Fighting physical dependence on nicotine:
- Nicotine replacement therapy – there are plasters, chewing gums etc. with nicotine. It may help to fight the physical symptoms, but it is not meant to be the only thing you use to help you quit smoking. You will need other methods that help the psychological part of smoking, such as a stop smoking program and scientific studies have shown that this can double your chances of quitting.
- There are some medications which were shown in the scientific studies to increase the chance of stopping smoking. Bupropion is a prescription anti-depressant that reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It acts on specific substances in the brain that are related to nicotine craving. Varenicline is a newer prescription drug which works by interfering with nicotine receptors in the brain and lessens the pleasurable effects from smoking, and reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.
- You should consult your doctor regarding medications, but it was shown that besides your own motivation to stop smoking (which can be enough for success), combination of medications and psychological support gives the best results.
- Some people start smoking again shortly after quitting and are said to have 'relapsed'. Even if you do relapse, do not feel too discouraged. Actually, very few of us can quit smoking for ever on the first try. As Mark Twain said: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it hundreds of times.”
What's important is finding out what helped you when you tried to quit and what was the biggest temptations to start again.
Laura Malinauskiene, MD