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    Smoking cessation is essential for good health, and it can even save your life. The truth is that the journey to quit smoking is challenging — but when armed with the right knowledge, it becomes a manageable and empowering endeavor. This article will provide essential insights and strategies to help you quit smoking and reclaim your health.


    Understanding Nicotine Addiction

    Although it's easy to start smoking, quitting can be very difficult. This is because the nicotine found in cigarettes and other tobacco products is an extremely addictive substance. Nicotine is naturally present in tobacco plants, but some tobacco products also contain additives that increase nicotine absorption.


    Nicotine is far from the only chemical or harmful ingredient in tobacco products. According to the American Lung Association, there are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. Once lit, cigarettes release smoke that contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic, and at least 69 of which are known to cause cancer.


    To get a handle on smoking cessation, it's important to first understand the mechanism of nicotine addiction. Nicotine is the chemical in tobacco that keeps you smoking, and it reaches your brain within seconds of taking a puff. Once in the brain, nicotine speeds up the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, which are essentially brain chemicals that help regulate mood and behavior. According to the Mayo Clinic, dopamine causes pleasurable feelings and improved mood when it's released in the reward center of the brain. As you continue smoking, the brain develops a tolerance to nicotine's effects, and requires larger amounts of nicotine to get the same pleasureable feeling. This is nicotine dependence.


    Cigarettes might be the first product that comes to mind when you think of nicotine addiction, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all tobacco products contain nicotine and can lead to nicotine addiction. The FDA list also includes the following: non-combusted cigarettes (known as "heat-not-burn tobacco products" or "heated tobacco products"), cigars, smokeless tobacco (such as dip, snuff, snus and chewing tobacco), hookah tobacco and most e-cigarettes, vaporizers and other electronic nicotine delivery systems.


    Symptoms of Nicotine Dependence

    It's critical to identify symptoms that may indicate you have a nicotine addiction. Some signs to watch out for include:


    • You can't stop smoking.
    • You keep smoking despite health problems, such as smoking-related heart or lung disease.
    • You give up social activities if you're not allowed to smoke there (such as skipping a friend's birthday party at a smoke-free restaurant).
    • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop, such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, depression, frustration, anger, insomnia, constipation, diarrhea and increased hunger.


    Setting Realistic Goals

    While some smokers have success quitting "cold turkey" — they quit smoking immediately without the aid of nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) — this strategy isn't possible for most smokers. Many smokers who try to quit find themselves smoking again, so it's important to recognize the challenge, set realistic goals and not be discouraged if you struggle.


    If you're not able to quit cold turkey, then set achievable milestones. Achieving attainable milestones can boost your confidence, which can encourage you to continue on your smoking cessation journey. Set your quit date, make a plan and set yourself up for success.


    To help you in your quest to quit smoking, the Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding triggers (like bars that allow smoking). If you feel you're going to give in to a craving, try delaying your urge by 10 minutes to reduce the craving. By setting (and then meeting) short-term goals, you can maintain your motivation, helping you achieve your long-term goal of quitting smoking altogether.


    Examples of Short-Term Goals

    So, what are some smaller goals that seem less daunting? Consider the following:


    • If you dine at restaurants that allow smoking, switch to restaurants that don't allow it.
    • If you currently smoke a pack per day, try first reducing this to half a pack.
    • If you usually light up immediately after dinner, set a goal to wait 10 minutes before smoking.
    • If you typically smoke during your lunch break at work, switch to taking a brisk walk.


    Building a Support System

    Finding support is critical for many soon-to-be nonsmokers, be it through friends and family members, in-person group meetings or online support groups. Recognizing the significance of a strong support network during the quitting process can be the key to giving up smoking for good.


    When you decide to quit, tell your friends and family so they can support you and so you have an additional incentive to stick to your goal. Nobody likes to fail, so many smokers are more likely to quit successfully if they tell others about their goal. Why? Because the desire to not admit failure is a strong motivator.


    If you're trying to help a friend quit smoking, the American Lung Association suggests asking what sort of support they need and regularly checking in with them in person or over the phone. Acknowledge when a friend meets their short-term and long-term milestones by offering to take them out for a fun-filled (or relaxing) day.


    If you are the one trying to quit, reach out to friends and let them know what would help you most. Perhaps it's congratulatory words of affirmation, flowers or a special lunch at your favorite restaurant if you've met a milestone. Exercise can help curb cravings, so you could also ask friends or family to join you for a group fitness class, a workout in the gym or even a walk around the block. If someone you enjoy spending time with joins you, you'll be more likely to follow through with the workout.


    For many current and former smokers, being around other smokers is a huge trigger. Even if you have smoking friends who aren't ready to quit yet, they can still support you by not smoking around you. Some smokers won't necessarily make this connection themselves, so tell your smoker friends how much you would appreciate it and how much it would help you if they didn't smoke around you.


    Utilizing Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs)

    The Mayo Clinic also suggests speaking with your healthcare provider about NRTs, which can include prescription nicotine in nasal spray or inhalers, as well as over-the-counter items like nicotine patchesnicotine gum and nicotine lozenges. While these NRTs do contain nicotine, they typically have less nicotine than cigarettes, lack the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes and help you overcome intense cravings.


    Your healthcare provider may prescribe a smoking cessation medication, like bupropion (Wellbutrin SR, Wellbutrin XL and others) and varenicline. They are usually safe to use alongside short-acting nicotine therapies, but speak to your healthcare provider first. The Mayo Clinic says that, while there has been a lot of interest in the role that electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) may play as a replacement for traditional cigarettes, they have not yet been proven to be safer or more effective than nicotine-replacement medications in terms of helping people to stop smoking.


    Implementing Behavioral Strategies

    According to the National Institutes of Health, cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients identify triggers — such as the people, places and things that encourage smoking — and teach them relapse-prevention skills. Some of these skills include relaxation techniques and effective coping strategies to avoid smoking during stressful situations. Mindfulness can also help patients attend to the thoughts that trigger cravings, helping the smoker cognitively reframe thoughts so they can tolerate them without succumbing to cravings.


    If you feel angry, frustrated, stressed or irritable when quitting, the National Cancer Institute suggests the following:


    • Identify the causes of stress (work, kids, money, traffic, etc.) and identify the stress signals (nervousness, difficulty sleeping, headaches).
    • Remind yourself that the feelings are temporary.
    • Create peaceful times in your schedule to get away from stressors in your usual environment.
    • Engage in an enjoyable physical activity like walking.
    • Reduce caffeine intake (coffee, black tea, energy drinks).
    • Rehearse and visualize your relaxation plan.
    • Relax by doing yoga, meditating, getting a massage, soaking in a hot bath or breathing deeply through your nose and out through your mouth for 10 breaths.


    Professional Guidance and Resources

    Quitting smoking is hard, so it's important to seek professional help. Speak with your healthcare provider about options like counseling, NRTs and medications. Keep in mind that if you're having a hard time with one approach, try another. Every person is different, and you may find the most success by implementing multiple strategies simultaneously.


    Here are some resources to consider:



    Ultimately, quitting smoking is an endeavor that involves both personal commitment and strategic planning. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of addiction, realistic goals, a robust support system and various cessation tools, individuals can navigate this journey successfully, paving the way for improved mental and physical well-being.


    Written by: Cassandra Brooklyn


    These articles are intended for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in these articles. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise or medication regimen.


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