Most everyone should be in agreement now that smoking is bad for your health. The Surgeon General has been telling us that for decades now. So why do smokers continue to smoke when the quit smoking benefits are so well publicized?
There are two simple ideas that come into play. The first is that nicotine is physiologically addicting. The brain actually creates more receptors to accommodate more nicotine over time. There are many case studies that say nicotine is just as, if not more addictive, than cocaine or opium. This should send a chill down the spine of anyone who smokes. For many smokers believe it’s their choice to smoke. They are making the conscious decision to pick up a cigarette and smoke. Yet, they are only fooling themselves. It is the addiction that is driving them to smoke. The brain simply wants that chemical release to experience the euphoric feeling that results from puffing on a cigarette. Many smokers do quit cold turkey, although the success rate is very low at around 5%. The majority of smokers just cannot stop smoking as if it were checking off an item from a to-do list. It is much more complicated than that.
The second part of smoking that gets little attention is the behavioral component. While people are performing DNA studies looking for genetic tendencies, the behavioral cues that trigger smoking gets largely ignored by those wanting to quit. What happens here is the act of smoking becomes linked with a secondary behavior. This second behavior then becomes a trigger for the smoking habit. Many people have associated drinking with smoking. Others associate their morning cup of coffee with smoking. This behavioral response is similar to what happened with Pavlov’s dogs. The food became associated with the bell ringing.
Behavioral cues are very strong triggers for smoking. Novice quitters may not realize how challenging these triggers are to their overall quitting strategy. They then find themselves surprised at how difficult the cravings are at seemingly the same times throughout their day.
This is why it is so important to make a list of cues that elicit the smoking response. Realizing these factors can help the smoker change up their routines and learn how to substitute these triggers for new patterns of behavior. Perhaps they drink that first cup of coffee while driving into work, instead of in the kitchen before they leave. Maybe they need to avoid the happy hour with their smoking friends after work. But having a list to refer back to can be very helpful.
So quitting smoking takes a two pronged approach. The first is to identify what triggers your smoking behavior. Second, you should identify a plan of action for when the smoking cravings hit. Many use stop smoking aids to help curb their withdrawal cravings like bupropion, varenicline or nicotine replacement therapy. Each stop smoking method has its own success rate. When using a stop smoking aid, it is important to select one that matches your addiction, personality and lifestyle. For example, if you do not like taking pills, then nicotine replacement may be the answer. But if you find that depression plays a role in your nicotine dependency, then bupropion might be the right selection.
Finally, quitting smoking comes down to a decision. The smoker needs to decide they truly want to quit smoking and they’ll do anything to be successful at it. Quitting rates might be low because there are so many people who try to casually quit smoking. They don’t put a lot of thought into it and just figure it’s not that big of a deal. But when the cravings hit, they have no plan of action and so they relapse.
Go ahead and decide to quit smoking today. Then decide again tomorrow and the next day. To be successful, you need to make that decision every single day. Avoid the big mistake that causes so many to relapse. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that one cigarette won’t hurt. Many have relapsed 18 months after quitting because they just wanted to have one more cigarette.
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