According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 70 percent of individuals who smoke cigarettes would like to quit (CDC, 2012). However, most people who try to quit are not successful in their first attempt. This is because the body physically and emotionally has come to rely on the chemical nicotine.
Most individuals who try to quit smoking will experience nicotine withdrawal, which can last for a few days to a few weeks. Withdrawal can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and increased appetite. Being aware of these withdrawal symptoms and creating a plan to overcome them can help you quit smoking.
Most of the individuals who are successful at quitting smoking are very determined to quit. Writing down the short-term and long-term benefits of quitting smoking can help you to remain motivated. Remember to be specific about why you wish to stop smoking. It may be helpful to keep this list handy so you can refer to it when you are experiencing cravings.
Benefits of quitting smoking include:
- a decreased risk of cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, stroke, and vision problems
- a greater life expectancy
- a lower risk of miscarriage or of having a baby born with a low birth weight
- better smelling breath and whiter teeth
- saving money
- no more yellowing of the fingernails and fingers
- a heightened sense of smell and taste
- the ability to breathe easier
- no longer exposing others to secondhand smoke
- a greater acceptance from potential employers or landlords
Creating a plan for how you will quit smoking can help set you up for success. First, you should choose a date that you will stop smoking. Some individuals choose to smoke up until this day and quit "cold turkey." Others prefer to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke in the weeks leading up to the chosen date.
It is especially important that you inform your friends and family about the day that you have chosen to quit smoking. This can help to keep you accountable and also allows your friends and family to support you.
Before your chosen day, throw out all your cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia, such as ashtrays and lighters. It may also be helpful for you to clean or throw out anything that smells of cigarette smoke.
It is also a good idea for you to think about when you might crave a cigarette, such as after meals. Try to come up with ways that you can avoid this craving or redirect yourself to a different activity.
It can be very tempting to tell yourself that you will just have one cigarette or one puff of a cigarette. However, this can easily become more than one cigarette. It is best to avoid smoking completely. Instead, focus on your goals. You may even wish to reward yourself for every day that you go without smoking by saving up for a special treat.
Quitting smoking may require you to make lifestyle changes. The goal is to replace negative behaviors with more positive, healthy behaviors. You may need to avoid coffee and alcohol, especially while you are quitting, because these can cause cravings for cigarettes. You may also need to avoid activities that you associate with smoking, as well as other smokers.
Some individuals find that occupying their mouths can be helpful when quitting smoking. This may include sucking on a hard candy, chewing sugarless gum, drinking water, or sucking on a cinnamon stick.
It may also be helpful to take up hobbies that occupy your hands. This may include knitting, crossword puzzles, woodworking, or reading a book.
Exercise can also be helpful in overcoming cravings, cutting down on stress, and managing the weight gain that sometimes occurs as a result of quitting smoking.
There are a number of ways that you can get help to quit smoking. Certain treatments were designed to help with the physical symptoms associated with quitting smoking.
These treatments include:
- nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which may be given in patch, chewing gum, lozenge, or spray form
- bupropion (Zyban or Wellbutrin), a medication traditionally used for depression that can help with nicotine cravings
- varenicline (Chantix), a medication that decreases withdrawal symptoms as well as nicotine’s effect on the brain
- nortriptyline, an antidepressant that may help increase the chance of success when quitting smoking
- clonidine, a medication traditionally used to decrease high blood pressure that may help with quitting smoking
Quitting smoking can be emotionally challenging, so psychological support may also be helpful. Treatments to help with the emotional effects of quitting smoking include:
- telephone-based counselling
- talk therapy
- support groups
- classes or programs for quitting smoking
Written by: Janelle Martel
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD