Nicotine: Why It’s so Hard to Quit Smoking

When I was eight years old I swore I would never smoke. My mom smoked and I always urged her to quit. She never did. I went back on my word about six years later and had my first cigarette. I believe I was fourteen and I remember quite clearly my friend handing me the already lit cigarette and urging me to “just try it”. I won’t say I smoked steadily from then on but it did progressively get worse from that moment.

Now more than fifteen years later I really want to quit. I feel horrible some days and I know it’s the smoking. There are even nights I lay awake terrified of getting lung cancer or having a stroke yet I still smoke. I’ve tried quitting a few times but it never stuck. I have friends who have never smoked and they really aren’t much help. They scoff and say, “Just stop doing it”. If only it were that easy! There are a multitude of reasons why it’s just not that simple. If you are a smoker trying to quit, understanding these reasons it’s so hard to stop may give you some insight into your habit and help you to quit once and for all.

Nicotine

We all know cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is a drug and your body craves it. Nicotine has the power to relax you and calm jittery nerves. It is highly addictive so it doesn’t take much for you to become dependent on it. You body comes to depend on the nicotine to stay relaxed and your brain will actually think you need it. So when you deprive yourself of it you begin to feel the symptoms of withdrawal. You may feel edgy, irritated and anxious. You may also feel unable to concentrate, frustrated, tired and hungry. Of course smoking a cigarette will vanquish all of these feelings and bring you back to a feeling of peace. No wonder it’s so hard to quit!

Here’s how it works. When you take a puff from a cigarette the nicotine is rushed from your lungs, into your bloodstream and is carried to the rest of your body. All major systems of the body are affected by nicotine. You soon build up a tolerance for it and then you need more to get the same effect. You may find yourself smoking more and more for you body to maintain the same level of the drug in your system.

When quitting, nicotine replacement therapy allows you to slowly wean yourself from your addiction while removing the most damaging part of the cigarette, the smoke. It’s not the nicotine that causes cancer. The smoke that carries the drug into your lungs is the true culprit. Cigarette smoke is loaded with harmful toxins that are delivered into your body with each puff. I find it odd that I will cover my mouth in the presence of any other type of smoke and try to get away from it yet I willingly put a cigarette in my mouth multiple times each day. The knowledge is there but the nicotine is so much more powerful.

Habit

Smoking is also a powerful habit. The longer you smoke the more it becomes something you just do at certain points in the day. Many enjoy a cigarette with their morning coffee, after eating, while driving or during their break at work. There’s a comfort in the act of doing it that has a psychological hold on the smoker.

A cigarette almost becomes an extension of yourself or even worse; an accessory that leaves you feeling naked if it’s missing. I have friends who have walked out of the house without their keys, purse or even their spouse but have never forgotten their cigarettes. To successfully quit you may have to rearrange your day so you don’t automatically reach for a cigarette. You will need to find other things to do with your hands and learn to chew on a straw rather than suck on a cigarette.

Emotional Attachment

Cigarettes and the act of smoking also become an emotional experience. You know that if you are feeling put out, angry or frustrated a cigarette will help you calm down. You come to rely on the cigarette helping you rather than working through these feelings yourself. Once you stop smoking you discover you have to find other ways to deal with life’s little irritations and this can be very hard for many smokers.

Quitting Again and Again

Only 2.5% of all smokers manage to quit each year but 50% will eventually succeed in their quest. Don’t feel frustrated if you resume smoking again and again after quitting. Most people do not stop on their first attempt. The important thing is to keep trying and you will eventually break the habit. Nicotine is by far one of the hardest drugs to get kick. Add that to the emotional and psychological habit of smoking and you can see why it’s so hard to throw away cigarettes for good.

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