Why is it hard to quit smoking?

Nicotine is the main addictive drug in tobacco. Nicotine triggers the release of chemicals (dopamine) inside the brain that make you feel good. Cigarettes are designed to get nicotine to your brain fast, arriving within 10 seconds of inhaling.

As nicotine stimulates parts of your brain over and over, your brain gets used to having nicotine around. In fact, over time nicotine even changes how your brain works, making you feel like you need nicotine just to feel okay.

When you stop smoking, withdrawal symptoms occur making you feel anxious, or upset. Additionally, many people connect smoking with things in their daily routine, such as taking breaks, drinking a cup of coffee, finishing a meal, etc. When your day is filled with routines that involve smoking, it may be hard to do these routines without a cigarette.

Quitting is possible.

The good news is that millions of people have quit smoking for good, and most report feeling better after they’ve been nicotine-free for a while. Learn how to quit smoking in these five steps.

  1. Find Your Reason for Quitting. Why do you want to quit? Use your reasons for quitting to help motivate yourself.
  1. Create a Plan. Create a plan to help you stick to your goal of quitting. Include the following items in your plan:
  • Set a start date
  • Include coping mechanisms to manage triggers and cravings
  • Set up a good support system
  • Determine what resources you will use
  1. Become Aware of Helpful Resources. There are many resources available for those trying to quit smoking, and many of them are free to use.
  • Websites: quit.com, smokefree.gov, cdc.gov
  • Phone: 1-800-Quit-Now (1-800-784-8669)
  • Text: Smokefree TXT
  • Apps: There are mobile phone applications available to help provide support/guidance with quitting
  • Books/Printed Materials
  • Medications: Speak with your physician regarding the best choice and strength for you. Below are a few examples:
    • Nicotine replacements (patches, gums, lozenges-OTC)
    • Prescription medications (Bupropion SR, Chantix)
  1. Know What to Expect & How to Prepare Yourself. Quitting is hard, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help you conquer your cravings and triggers. The following information can help you be prepared.
  • Know what it takes to become nicotine-free
    • It will take 72 hours to become nicotine-free
    • Nicotine is cut by half every 2 hours
    • After 2-3 weeks, your brain will restore to its natural state and the nicotine will not be in control
      • Research shows people experience a maximum of 6 craving episodes per day. This then declines to about 1.4 per day on day 10.
      • Withdrawing will occur during this time. Symptoms include irritability, anger, anxiety, trouble thinking, cravings, and feeling hungrier.
  • Address any reservations or rationales you may have about smoking (i.e., “Smoking makes me feel good” or “I fear I may lose a group of friends”).
    • Have alternative activities or remedies as part of your plan that make you feel good. Acknowledge that the harmful nicotine drug is what makes you feel good when smoking.
    • Talk with your group of friends about smoke-free activities
  • Free yourself of smoking reminders.
    • Clean your car, clothes, and house to rid the smell of smoke, which may trigger cravings. Discard all lighter and ashtrays
  • Know what your cues or triggers are.
    • Your body has been trained to expect nicotine at certain times (e.g., during times of stress, while driving, while drinking alcohol, after eating, or when you meet a smoking friend). Knowing when to expect cravings to be triggered can help you prepare and resist.
  • Knowledge is power. Use your resources to stay strong and resist cravings and triggers.
  1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments. Focus on your successes and applaud your accomplishments! Celebrate milestones like being smoke-free for 24 hours, 2 days, one week, 2 weeks, one month, 2 months, one year, etc. Reward yourself by going out for dinner, going to a movie, or doing an activity you enjoy that is smoke-free and trigger-free.

Additional Helpful Hints to Quit

  • Take one day at a time.
  • Focus on accomplishments.
  • Plan activities that help you feel good and de-stress.
  • Be sure to get rid of all smoking reminders, such as ashtrays, lighters, and smoke smells.
  • Have a good support system (groups, family, friends, etc.).
  • Address your fears about quitting and eliminate your rationales.
  • Keep your hands and mouth busy. Play with a coin, use a straw to hold in your hand and breathe through, keep a toothpick in your mouth, suck on hard candy/cough drops (cool sensations) or chew gum.
  • Don’t panic or stress. Instead, try deep breathing, jumping jacks, pushups, lunges, or any other exercise. Find someone to talk to like family, friends, or a counselor.
  • Keep your mind occupied. Have a to-do list to focus on when you get a craving.
  • Find an alternative pleasure like a favorite song/artist or movie, or spend time with someone you enjoy being around like friends or family.
  • If you are finding yourself anxious, irritable, or moody, talk with your physician. Nicotine replacements (patches, gum, lozenges-OTC) can help with this.
  • Keep yourself well-nourished with healthy foods (don’t skip meals) and water. Nicotine doubles the rate caffeine is removed from your body, so you may consider decreasing your caffeine consumption while you’re trying to quit.
  • Get regular exercise and plenty of sleep.
Sources: Whyquit.com, quit.com, smokefree.gov