Smoking cessation: Habit or addiction?

Cigarette ends

How many times have you tried to give up smoking?

Is smoking hard because it’s a bad habit? Or is it an addiction where the primary drug, nicotine, makes it hard to stop smoking?

What if I told you that neither of those is what makes it hard to quit smoking?

Smoking is an addiction

Let’s get this out of the way. Smoking is an addiction, whether you are using the word in its everyday sense or a medical sense. You could consider smoking to be a habit, but that doesn’t change the fact of addiction.

Smoking is easy to quit

Um… What? Is smoking really easy to quit?

In my experience, any smoker who comes to see has already quit. Dozens of times!

Here’s the thing: The problem lies not in quitting, which is easy, but in staying cigarette-free!

In other words, it’s easy to be a temporary ex-smoker, but the vast majority of smokers find it extremely challenging, even impossible, to become a non-smoker.

Why should this be? Is it the nicotine that causes the problems?

Nicotine is only part of the problem

Nicotine is certainly part of the problem. It causes a cycle of dependency, where the smoker needs the nicotine rush to feel better, but what is not generally known is that nicotine causes the need in the first place.

However, it’s not the only part of the problem. Consider this:

After your last smoke, it takes around just two hours halve the nicotine in your body, and two or three days for the levels of nicotine to shrink to barely-noticeable levels in your body. (It takes much longer for all traces to disappear, but the tiny levels remaining won’t affect your brain.)

In other words, if you have not smoked (or taken any other nicotine substance such as nicotine-based chewing gum or patches) for a week, or less for some people, any craving that you feel for nicotine is psychological. Not physical!

In other words…

It’s the belief that makes you come back to smoking

When you haven’t smoked for a a few days or more, there is no nicotine to keep you addicted. Your craving to go back to smoking is based on the false belief that smoking makes you feel better.

What you remember is that you felt bad, had a cigarette, and felt better.

What you might not know is that the nicotine leaving your brain is what made you feel worse, or made you more susceptible to stress, in the first place! (I explain this in the next section.)

You also remember all those times when you had a smoke in order to take a break from work, from the kids or from whatever. You have confused the cigarette with the benefits of having a break.

Finally, you remember all those times when you have bonded with someone because you both smoke. Really, it could be that smoking was the only thing that you had in common, when you were both in a room full of non-smokers!

So, let’s address these points one by one.

It’s nicotine that makes you need nicotine

When nicotine enters your brain, your body works hard to remove the poison. Because nicotine interferes with the receptors in your brain, as your body manages to clear the nicotine, this increases the stress that you feel.

Because of the time delay between ingesting (smoking) the nicotine and feeling the resulting stress, you don’t realise that it’s the nicotine causing this problem. Instead, you might blame whatever is in front of you. Yes, it might be something stressful — but it’s worse because of the nicotine!

But you don’t realise this. So, what do you do? You go have another smoke, in order to replace the nicotine that was lost in your brain. Guess what: you feel better.

So, now, you think that the nicotine has made you feel better, when in fact it set you up in the first place to feel bad. It’s like a false friend who lies to you to make you feel bad, and then sits there comforting you afterwards. You think that the false friend is making you feel better, when in fact without that friend you wouldn’t be feeling bad in the first place!

This belief serves the cigarette manufacturers well, because after you stop smoking, when you feel bad, instead of dealing with the stress in a way that helps you and makes you stronger, you go right back to smoking.

You don’t need to smoke to take a break

Take a break

I had a client who said that she needed to smoke in order to take a break at work. She believed that her boss wouldn’t allow her to take a break otherwise. On further examination, she realised that she was every bit as entitled to a break as were her smoking colleagues. Just because you are not addicted to a drug doesn’t reduce your legal and moral rights!

Some people feel that, when they take a break, they are being lazy. So, those people smoke in order to take a break. It’s their excuse for being “lazy”.

It’s an odd belief that some people have, that having a rest is being lazy. But the opposite is true. People who take regular breaks are more productive and have higher quality output than people who don’t take breaks, even though they work slightly fewer hours.

It’s important to remember, always, that you never need an excuse to take a break. You take a break because you are human. Even robots need breaks for maintenance; your body and brain, as a high-functioning machine, need time off to recuperate. I have read that you need to take a break every hour; in some types of work, even more often.

Rapport doesn’t need a cigarette

I have been a non-smoker for many years. In all that time, there has been not a single instance where I have failed to connect with a smoker just because I don’t smoke. When I used to smoke, I never failed to connect with a non-smoker just because I smoked.

Although smoking can be used as an ice-breaker, there are so many other ways to connect. In the UK, people frequently talk about the weather to open a conversation. You don’t have to offer a cigarette to do so. If you struggle in social situations, you might want to find find help from someone who can teach you how, for example a specialist counsellor, life coach or networker.

Reducing cravings

Reducing cravings is always a help. One of the best ways to reduce cravings is to reduce stress. A surprising way to do this is with one simple change to your diet — if you don’t already do this…

Keep hydrated — with water, not caffeine! Cut down or even eliminate coffee, tea, and caffeinated fizzy drinks (caffeine is an addictive drug in its own right). Replace these with water, fruit juice, squash or similar.

Some people have said that sparkling water reduces cigarette cravings.

Of course, any other change to improve your diet is always welcome, and has been found to reduce cravings.

Stress relief

Any type of stress relief will reduce your cravings, because then you won’t feel that you need that false friend of nicotine to help you to feel better. Stress relief can take many forms, from a bath to a spa, counselling sessions, meditation, hypnotherapy, a holiday, a hobby or pastime, board games, sport, and more!

Will I put on weight?

A common concern is the myth that you must put on weight if you stop smoking. It’s nonsense!

Yes, it’s true that a number of people do put on weight. Generally, in my experience, this falls into two categories.

  • A smoker hits a point in their life that happens to coincide with body changes (your body naturally puts on weight at certain stages in life), and that point in life also prompts an emotional need for self-improvement — such as smoking cessation. In other words, it’s a coincidence.
  • A smoker stops smoking through sheer willpower, and replaces smoking with eating. The simple way to avoid this is to quit smoking for the right reasons (as I describe below), because willpower is, I believe, the worst possible way to stop smoking. (Except for nicotine replacement — one study suggested that this had a lower success rate than willpower alone!)

Change your belief in cigarettes

  • Instead of remembering how much cigarettes helped you in times of stress, remember instead how they made you need them in the first place by sneakily increasing your stress levels.
  • Find new ways to connect, even if it’s just talking about the weather.
  • Create a routine that reminds you to take a regular break.
  • Improve your diet, and drink more water and less caffeine, to reduce your cravings for cigarettes.
  • Find ways to treat your mind and body to reduce your stress levels.

One last point

If you do find yourself smoking even after all of this, pay close attention to the cigarette. Notice how it feels in your fingers; what it smells like; how it tastes (yeuch!); how it makes your throat feel; and your lungs. Really pay attention to it! Don’t smoke mindlessly. Imagine what it looks like, how ugly it is to put that stick in your mouth, and how much it ages your skin.

Remember how wonderful life used to smell (flowers, for example) before smoking messed up your nose; and imagine how you will feel when you recover much of that childlike wonder as your taste and smell both return after you have given up smoking and become a non-smoker.

OK, one more point

If you can stop smoking after all this time, imagine what else you are able to do!

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