Smoking is bad, everybody knows that. That’s why our parents grounded us when they caught us doing it. Did that ever stop us from lighting another cigarette the first chance we got? I hardly think so. I was late to the party because I started smoking in my senior year of high school. Six years later, I can tell you that I’ve quit a dozen times only to do it again as the first chance arose.
Like me, two-thirds of smokers want to quit this habit, and yet 75% of them relapse in the first six months after taking this decision. So why it’s so hard to stay nicotine-free? It may be because we don’t acknowledge the mechanisms of our addiction. Or maybe we lack the motivation to make a significant change in our lives.
For now, let’s try and understand WHY people get addicted to smoking
➢ The family influenced their behavior. Firstly, addiction is genetically inherited, so if the parents smoked, their children have a predisposition to follow in their steps. Secondly, let’s remember that children learn through imitation and modeling. If they saw parents smoking, they wanted to do the same.
➢ They were taught it was a cool thing. Mass-media still shows people smoking in music videos, in movies, etc. In an attempt to emulate their alluring attitude, many teenagers started doing it too.
➢ They have underlying mental disorders such as schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression. In some cases, people use tobacco to relax, to improve their mood even for a little while. In other cases, the neurobiological changes in brain circuits that appear in conditions such as ADHD are also associated with a higher drug craving.
HOW the addiction starts
When a person inhales the cigarette smoke, they inhale all the substances from the tobacco, including nicotine. This is the addictive agent that is absorbed into the lungs, into arteries. When nicotine reaches the brain, it releases a variety of neurotransmitters, one of them being dopamine. As a result, the person starts feeling good. They associate the emotional state with the act of smoking, so they do it again and again to reach the same frame of mind. In time, the nicotinic receptors in the brain get desensitized, so the person has to increase the dose. For a better understanding of the phenomenon, you can watch this video.
If they stop smoking, they experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, increased appetite and weight gain, insomnia, irritability, change in mood. While the person might resist the urge to light a cigarette, it often takes only a little trigger like troubles at work or school to start smoking again.
In time, this perpetual cycle makes the person vulnerable to lung and heart diseases, diabetes, infertility, and respiratory infections. And all that trouble because we want to feel good once in a while! Even knowing the risks, people can’t help themselves. Some cut off the number of cigarettes, or shift to chewing tobacco, smoking cigars, or vaping. While this is a step forward, it isn’t effective as long as they are still consuming toxic substances.
If you want to quit smoking, here are some things you can take into consideration regarding your process
🔹 The need for a smoke will always be there. Addiction never goes away. I’ve met people who started smoking again after a decade of abstinence. You will have to accept it, live with it, and resist it every day. It does not define you, but it is a part of you.
🔹 Take a good look inside you and make peace with whatever you find there. Try to understand your needs, the reason why you started smoking, and let it go. Whatever happened, you can sort it out by different means.
🔹 Find what motivates you to give up smoking. It can be anything – from the desire to lead a healthy life or winning a bet – as long as it’s meaningful to you. I know somebody who vowed to stay away from smoking after witnessing how a relative had passed from lung disease. Choose wisely and stick to it no matter what.
🔹 Seek professional help.
There are plenty of addiction counselors and organizations you can go to. It’s crucial to be honest about your history so that both you and the specialist find a method that will suit your needs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most used techniques. It helps you shift your focus from your need for a smoke to another activity: having a walk instead of smoking, for example. Exposure therapy can help you to resist the urge to smoke in situations where you would normally do, like a social gathering. By frequently choosing not to smoke, the impulse will eventually cease.
🔹 You are not alone in this. Inform your friends and relatives about your decision. Ask them to hang out in smoking-free zones or to not indulge in the habit when you’re together. Be sure you have somebody sympathetic to call or to talk to when the urge arises until it subsides. Moreover, you can attend support groups where you can share your experience or engage in different activities, such as gardening or crafting.
🔹 Trust in yourself. Change takes courage, commitment, and time. There will be bad days when the craving will drive you up the wall, but there will be good ones too. You have to be your own best supporter: gentle, but unshakable. You might lose some battles, but make sure you will show up for the big war day after day after day.
To summarize, keep in mind that you are in charge of your actions and their outcomes. Be mindful of your habits and discard those who no longer benefit your health or well-being. And remember to take the right decision for you!