How to Quit Smoking
When you make a firm decision to quit smoking you’re taking a life changing step. You’ve made a personal commitment to beat an addiction that is also an ingrained habit and a deep pleasure. On some level, cigarettes are invariably a psychological crutch for every smoker.
Some of us have been smokers for more years than we were ever non smokers. If you’re in your 40s and you’ve been smoking since you were 14, cigarettes are almost a part of your identity. Giving up smoking may be the hardest thing you ever do.
Make a Plan to Stop Smoking
If you’re serious about giving up smoking you may find that good intentions get you nowhere fast. Successful quitters tend to be the ones who analyse their own behaviour and make a solid plan to quit. We all have different personalities, varying levels of willpower and are subject to individual life stresses and pressures. When you’re looking for a plan to quit smoking, one size definitely doesn’t fit all!
Just Stop Smoking
Beat nicotine withdrawal with old fashioned cold turkey
Everybody knows someone who made a decision to give up smoking and just go cold turkey without any strategies or props. They somehow found the willpower to simply quit and didn’t look back. They usually like to talk about it as though it was an easy natural and obvious thing to do, which is the last thing you want to hear if you suffer from terrible nicotine cravings and are on your umpteenth attempt to quit the weed.
New research suggests that these elite quitters may not be the masters of willpower that they like people to think they are. It seems more likely that their brains process addiction differently. Put simply, they are less addicted to begin with and stopping smoking is correspondingly easier.
If you think you fall into this group, or you rate your own determination and willpower, you have nothing to lose by trying!
A potentially life changing way to quit smoking
Therapy used to be the preserve of neurotic Hollywood actors and bored rich people. These days it’s evolved into a powerful tool that’s transforming the lives of millions of people. If you see smoking as a symptom of deeper personal problems, or you’re looking for a holistic approach to quitting tobacco, behavioural therapy could be the way ahead.
Cognitive behaviour therapy - CBT - aims to identify triggers in your daily life (and their underlying causes) that cause you to reach for your cigarettes. CBT shouldn’t be attempted lightly; it requires commitment, as well as the courage to look into the darker places in your own psyche. On the plus side, even a short course of CBT can produce powerful results and help win the battle to quit smoking.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy
A gentle and pragmatic approach to giving up smoking
Nicotine replacement therapy is as simple as it sounds. If you stop smoking your body craves nicotine, by replacing the nicotine in cigarettes with less harmful sources, you can gradually wean yourself off the drug. Nicotine replacement therapy - NRT - comes in all shapes and sizes. There have been numerous studies about whether the various NRT products really help patients to quit smoking successfully. There are also concerns about the relapse rate of ex smokers who gave up using nicotine replacement treatments. Some studies suggest that after one year almost 80% of users will start smoking again1.
- skin patches
- chewing gum
- nasal and oral sprays
All are designed to deliver measured doses of nicotine to the brain, satisfying your cravings and hopefully taking your mind off cigarettes. The advantage of NRT is that you can pace yourself and deal with nicotine cravings as they occur. If you’re in a stressful situation that would normally send you running outside for a smoke break, a quick blast on an inhaler can beat the urge to light up.
Medication to Stop Smoking
Modern treatments for a deadly health problem
The bottom line with smoking is that it can kill you. Every drag on a cigarette is a step closer to lung cancer, heart disease and a whole range of serious medical conditions. When you’re 16 the threat of smoking related illness doesn’t seem real, but the older you get, the more real it becomes. Right up to the point where you decide to give up smoking and take responsibility for your health.
If you view your addiction to nicotine as a straightforward illness, or you have received urgent medical advice to stop smoking now, medication may be your preferred option. Not everybody is happy to ‘try to quit’ or to fight a daily battle with nicotine. Taking a prescription medication such as Champix or Zyban to give up smoking may be the simplest and most practical solution.
Champix is a prescription medication that uses the active ingredient Varenicline to block certain receptors in the brain, both reducing nicotine cravings and reducing the pleasurable sensations associated with smoking. Used long term - for at least 3 months - Champix may increase your chances of giving up smoking and also make the whole process easier. Unlike NRT products Champix is 100% nicotine free.
If you want to use Champix you will need to set a firm start date as part of a quit smoking plan, as it is necessary to begin taking the medicine 1 - 2 weeks before you quit smoking. This allows a base dosage to build up in your bloodstream before you actually begin to experience cravings.
A flexible and personal way to quit smoking
Combination treatments are a personal solution to giving up smoking that is based on individual preferences and trial and error. Not only is everybody different, but a treatment that works well for somebody this week may be less effective next week. A willingness to chop and change, combining different therapies, can be the key to quitting smoking.
For example, you’re using nicotine patches and they’re really helping with the initial cravings, but your boss is giving you hell and the kids are driving you mad. All you can think about is tapping one of your colleagues for a cigarette and rushing to the smoking area. Carrying a nicotine spray for minor crises may be a good tactic, but it could be time to try some CBT and explore the underlying causes of your stress.
How to Stay on Track
We often hear that giving up smoking is easy - it’s not starting again that is the hard part. Whether you find it easy to quit smoking or not, there’s no doubt that it can be a challenge not to fall back into old habits - sometimes even years later!
Complacency is often the biggest enemy of ex-smokers. You won the battle, and got cigarettes out of your life for good. You feel healthier, have more confidence and self respect, your clothes don’t smell and suddenly you’ve got loads of spare cash; what could possibly go wrong? The single biggest trap is the mindset that ‘I’m a non smoker now, so one won’t hurt’. The occasional cigarette with a beer can quickly snowball back into a 20 a day habit.
Know your triggers and avoid them early on
Smoking is a very deeply ingrained habit that combines a psychological need for pleasure/reward/comfort and a physical addiction to nicotine. You may have successfully quit smoking, but all the mechanisms are in place to start again at any time. If you know your triggers you can avoid them and pre-empt the urge to light up.
Everybody has different triggers at different times. Not all can be avoided and not all should be avoided (you’re not going to abstain from food, alcohol and sex just because you might want a cigarette afterwards). It’s enough to anticipate the likelihood of a trigger and be ready to deal with it.
Know that the first few days are the toughest
Absolute withdrawal from nicotine and all its learned comforts is a shock to the system - there’s no way around it. Being mentally prepared to tough out the first few days is crucial. If you can take yourself out of your normal environment it can make a massive difference to giving up smoking at the first attempt.
A long weekend away, or even a holiday can be a great tactic if you want to stop smoking. You have physically separated yourself from everyday pressures and completely changed your personal routine. If you go somewhere remote (no corner shops with shelves of your favourite brand) and plenty of fresh air and exercise - you could break the habit in a few days.
Don't give in to your cravings
Cravings are inevitable, and they always seem to come when you’re most vulnerable to temptation. When you experience a sudden craving, don’t let it dominate your mind. Tell yourself that what you are feeling is merely a craving for nicotine and that it is a temporary phenomenon. If you can tough it out for a few minutes it will pass.
Distraction is a great tactic to beat cigarette cravings. Everytime you’re hit by the urge to smoke, try doing a set of press ups, go outside for a walk, or sit quietly and meditate. Try tea or coffee, or a conventional NRT like a nicotine spray or nicotine chewing gum. It’s all about trial and error and finding what works for you.
Try a new hobby with friends who don't smoke
There’s nothing like peer pressure when it comes to influencing how we behave. You can use positive peer pressure as a tool to avoid starting smoking again. The simplest way is simply to spend time with friends who don’t smoke. If your all your friends do smoke, find new ones.
Starting a new hobby with non smokers will keep you busy and away from temptation. If you can find a physical hobby like sport, gymwork, walking or swimming, you’ll be in an even stronger position to avoid a relapse and a return to cigarette smoking. A new found enthusiasm for health and fitness can take on its own dynamic and push your even further from former bad habits.
Depending on your brand, you could easily be paying over £12 for a pack of twenty cigarettes. If you smoke a pack a day, you’ll be down over £4,000 a year (and that’s if the Chancellor doesn’t raise taxes at the next budget). Having an extra four grand of disposable income every year could be a real adventure!
Reward yourself for not smoking and make it into a regular ritual that you look forward to. For every day that you don’t light up, give yourself a treat in the evening. At the end of each smoke free week, buy something bigger, or do something fun with the people you love. If you make it through the first month, splash out on a trip abroad - you’ll have earned it, and you’ll also have the money!
How Hard Will It Be to Stop Smoking?
There’s no precise answer, but a good starting point is that giving up smoking will be as hard, or as easy, as you make it.
- Choose your quitting day carefully
- Be clear about your motivations for stopping
- Understand all the advantages of giving up smoking
- Have a plan to quit - NRTs, medications and personal strategies
- Get the support of family, friends and colleagues
- Recognise the triggers that can give you nicotine cravings
The stronger and clearer your motivation for quitting, the more likely that you will succeed to stop smoking. A well thought out plan, some self-knowledge and an understanding of triggers will make the process easier. But ultimately, giving up smoking is like anything else in life; you have to really want to succeed and be ready to put the effort in.
What if I Start Smoking Again?
If you fail to give up smoking, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak, or that you’re destined to always be a smoker. It just means that you still have some things to learn. There are some very tough and determined people, who are at the top of their professions, but still struggle to stop smoking. It can take several attempts to finally kick the habit.
Analyse where you went wrong - what caused you to light up, and what’s making you keep on lighting up? When you think you have the answers, make a new plan, and think about a new quitting date. If you already failed to give up smoking it may be worth considering a different approach to quitting, including cognitive behavioural therapy prior to actually giving up.
Understanding nicotine withdrawal symptoms is the first step in sucessfully kicking the habbit. Find out how to manage the initial stages of nicotine withdrawl.