Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who want to quit smoking, have tried and maybe even quit several times, but are having a difficult time kicking the cigarettes - or cigars or dip - for good. Quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco is a journey with many bumps and reroutes along the way. You may feel hijacked by your friends who smoke and encourage you to enjoy a cigarette with them - or your mind may ambush you into having "just one." Let's take a look at why kicking the butts can be so tricky.
Smoking and tobacco use is a physical addiction. Your body has developed a tolerance to nicotine and when your nicotine level drops due to quitting or cutting back you experience withdrawal symptoms (commonly irritability, anxiety, and increase in cravings). Many people find it difficult to endure the physical withdrawal symptoms during the first few days after quitting.
Smoking is a habit or behavior that you have been doing many times per day for perhaps many years. You have likely developed regular and deeply engrained patterns with smoking such as smoking first thing in the morning, having a cigarette with coffee or after meals, smoking while driving, etc. I'm sure you can relate and list more!
- Smoking is often used by people to feel better or manage stress or uncomfortable emotions. In the short term, smoking a cigarette or dipping can relieve anxiety/stress from nicotine withdrawal and perhaps help you escape a stressful situation such as an argument with a partner. In the long term, smoking actually increases stress and makes it more difficult to cope with emotions.
Successfully quitting smoking involves having a plan to help you get through each aspect of quitting - physical, behavioral, and emotional. Many people discuss medication options with their physician and/or use nicotine replacement products which can help with the physical addiction. The behavioral and emotional aspects of quitting are usually more complex and require more planning and support for the long term. It is helpful to list all of your triggers for smoking so you have a good idea of what situations or emotions may lead to stronger cravings and increased likelihood of smoking. More to come in a future post on how to manage triggers and cravings, but I bet you have some ideas about what has worked for you or others before.
If you have quit in the past, you know you can do it! Each time you try, you learn something new about how you've gotten off the path and can get back on to reclaim years of your life. Remember to have compassion for yourself on this journey.