What You Should Know About Quitting Smoking

Everyone has their own reasons for smoking.   And every former smoker has found a reason to quit.  Millions of smokers every year have made the decision to improve their lives by quitting smoking.  If you’ve been a smoker for 40 year or a smoker for 1 year, quitting smoking is the sinle best thing you can do to improve your health.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again

Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances available, and it can easily found in grocery stores, gas stations and convince shops.  With a just a few cigarettes, someone can easily find themself addicted to nicotine.  This chemical addiction to nicotine is what drive most people to take-up the habit of smoking.

When a person tries to quit smoking cigarettes, they are trying to do two different things: break an addiction and change a habit.  Many smokers are able to break themselves from the addiction to nicotine.  Anyone who has quit smoking for 3 or 4 days has essentially broken the addiction.  But for most people, the habit of smoking brings them back.  Most smokers, try to quit multiple times before they finally succeed.  If you are trying to quit smoking and you have a relapse, think of it as practicing quitting.  Just like everything else, we have to practice something to succeed.

You don’t have to go it alone

Quitting smoking can be motivated by very personal reasons, but quitting smoking doesn’t have to a private affair.  Every state has a Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW), which provides free counseling and access to other services that help people quit.  Thanks to modern communications, you never have to be far from support.  Depending on the state you live in smoking cessation counselors may also be available by text message.  The  National Cancer Institute even produces a smartphone app, QuitPal, to help smokers quit.  In general, individuals who work with a smoking cessation counselor are more than three times likely to succeed in quitting smoking.

You can break the habit before tackling the addiction

Nicotine withdrawal generally starts within 2-3 hours after your last cigarette, and symptoms can include:

  • anxiety, restlessness and impatience,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • drowsiness,
  • irritability, and
  • weight gain.

Nicotine replacement therapies, patches or gums, continue to provide nicotine keeping  from experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal.  By replacing the source of nicotine, patches and gums allow a person to focus on breaking the habit of smoking without having to deal with the effects of withdrawal.  During this time, it’s recommended that people remove things such as ashtrays and lighters from their home, so there’s less motivation to smoke.  Another benefit of nicotine replacement therapies is they allow the body to begin the process of healing from the damaging effects of smoking.

There are medications to help

There are currently, two FDA approved medications to help people stop smoking Bupropion (Wellbutrin) and Varenicline (Chantix).  Both of the medications have been proven to help smokers make the transition to non-smokers, although these medications work in different ways.  Bupropion works by stopping nicotine from activating the reward pathways that makes smoking pleasurable.  Varenicline works by preventing nicotine from binding to receptors.  The net effect for both medications is that cigarettes no longer produce the expected high.  Many people report that when taking these medications, they no longer crave cigarettes because cigarettes not only taste bad, but also don’t do anything.  Unfortunately, both medications come with potentially serious side effects.  Bupropion lowers the threshold for seizures, and anyone with a history of seizures should not take this medication.  Varenicline has also been associated with increased rates of suicide and thoughts of suicide.

Medications aren’t your only option

Tobacco was once regarded as a medicinal plant before it became a commercialized product.  There are many medicinal plants that can help a person quit smoking.  One of the most well known plants is Lobelia inflata, (aka Indian Tobacco or Pukeweed) a relative of tobacco.  Lobelia contains the alkaloid lobeline, which is able to not only block nicotine from binding onto receptors, but also helps balance out reward pathways triggered by nicotine.  A tincture of lobelia can help reduce cravings for cigarettes while reducing the side effects of withdrawal.  Lobelia, just like the medications listed above, is not without possible side effects.  The name common name for Lobelia, Pukeweed, is a reference to it’s ability will trigger vomiting when taken in large doses.

Acupuncture is another common alternative treatment to help people quit smoking.  Unlike medications and botanicals, which can be used while people are still smoking, acupuncture is focused on reducing the symptoms of withdrawal, and has the most benefits when used in the weeks immediately after someone quits smoking.

Make a plan to quit

The decision to quit smoking can be a spur of the moment decision, but the act of quitting doesn’t have to be.  The most successful way to quit smoking is with a solid plan.  Consult your doctor or a smoking cessation counselor to figure out what tools are best for you and then make a quit date.  Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health.