Why is it so hard to quit?

Updated:Aug 5,2013

Serious Man With People In BackgroundYou already know smoking is harmful to your body.  Even so, lots of people keep smoking.  So why should you quit?  The logic is simple: You’ll improve the quality and length of your life and the lives of the people around you.  Even so, quitting is very difficult. One way to prepare to successfully launch your smoke-free life is to understand why you smoke and what happens when you stop.

Why is it so hard to quit?

  • It’s hard to tackle the physical addiction to nicotine. Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance found naturally in tobacco.  It travels quickly to the brain when it is inhaled and can cause a feeling of temporary relaxation and/or stress relief. Nicotine can also elevate your mood and your heart rate. But this feeling is only temporary. After your body rids itself of the drug, you start to crave another cigarette. The surgeon general’s study on nicotine concluded that  “behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.”

    Nicotine Addiction

    Nicotine is an addictive drug. It causes changes in the brain that make people want to use it more and more. In addition, addictive drugs cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The good feelings that result when an addictive drug is present — and the bad feelings when it's absent — make breaking any addiction very difficult. Nicotine addiction has historically been one of the hardest addictions to break.

    The 1988 Surgeon General's Report, "Nicotine Addiction," concluded that:

    • Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting.
    • Nicotine is the drug that causes addiction.
    • Pharmacologic and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.


    Shortly after you finish smoking a cigarette, your body starts to show signs of withdrawal. You start to crave another cigarette to overcome these symptoms, starting a vicious cycle of dependency. 
     
  • It may seem challenging to find new ways to handle your stress. Do you grab a cigarette when you feel stressed or anxious?  Stress, whether it’s from your job, relationships, caregiving burdens or just plain fast-paced living, can cause you to look for fast and easy relief.
But in the long run, smoking will only add to your stress by taking away your good health. To successfully quit smoking, you may need to think through your stress-management options before you quit. 

Consider these tips:
  1. Stop and take a deep breath. Taking five to 10 deep breaths is a good start to stress relief. You also get the benefit of inhaling clean air into your lungs without those harmful chemicals! 
  2. Go for a walk. Physical activity can release a chemical in your body that improves your mood and relieves stress. Walking for 30 minutes a day can be a healthy distraction, burn extra calories and help your heart.
  3. Try to relax. Stress can make your muscles tense. Relax them by stretching, deep breathing, doing yoga, getting a message or even closing your eyes and visualizing yourself in a peaceful place.
  4. Call a friend. Talking through your highs and lows with family, friends or even a support group can give you comfort and positive reinforcement.
  5. Cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that will increase your heart rate and your anxiety.  When you’re trying to decrease your stress, caffeine makes you tense, keeps you up at night and may even cause you to want to smoke.
  6. Take care of your body. Drink lots of water, eat healthy and get extra sleep. You’ll feel more energized and ready to handle stress.
     
It requires an open mind to discover new options -- and new benefits. Here are some comments from people who claim they smoke just because they enjoy it:
  • “I just like smoking.”
  • “Most of us are hungry for rewards. We want to be patted on the back. A cigarette is a reward that we can give ourselves as often as we want.”
  •  “My smoke break is my favorite time of the day because that’s when I hang out with my friends.”
  • Sound familiar? Try to remember that whatever satisfaction comes from smoking will be short-lived – literally – because cigarettes can shorten your life. 
Here are some other questions to consider as you plan your smoke-free life.

Does smoking:
  • Provide a way to meet people or hang out with a group?
  • Distract you when you feel lonely?
  • Help you control your weight?
  • Boost your confidence?
  • Provide an oral fixation or give you something to do with your hands?
  • Serve as a companion to coffee or alcohol or seem like the thing to do after a meal?
  • Calm you while you are driving?
Here are some great alternatives:
  • Rethink your social breaks. If you smoke with friends to be social or with co-workers on your lunch break, it is important to tell them that you are trying to quit — and invite them to join you. According to a Preventive Medicine study, 68 percent of smokers want to quit, and social support can be vital. But if you’re not ready, and if it becomes too difficult to spend time in these places where you normally smoke, think about changing your schedule or taking your breaks with nonsmokers.
  • Keep yourself busy. Go for walks, read a book or listen to music.
  • Keep your hands and your mouth busy. Chew gum, eat a healthy snack, squeeze a stress ball or play with putty.
  • After a meal, get up immediately from the table and engage in a pleasurable activity.
  • If coffee is your trigger, change something about the way you drink it. Change the mug you drink from or when and where you indulge. Start a new habit!
  • If you smoke in your car, remove your ashtray and replace it with potpourri or notes to remind you why you want to quit smoking.
  • At parties, try to stay away from smoking areas. Stay indoors or distance yourself from people who are smoking. This might be hard, but stay with it!
    You might also need to cut back on alcohol. It’s hard to have will power and stay focused on your commitment when you’ve had too much to drink. 
Knowing  yourself and discovering why you smoke will help you make a plan to quit. Your heart will thank you for years to come!

Also in this section:

Quit Smoking

Cost of Smoking Calculator

How much does it cost to smoke? Use this calculator to find out. Saving money is just one more good reason to quit smoking.

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Total Savings: $

Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke, too.