Posted on Sep 21, 2023, 4 p.m.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in the United States. Despite various government efforts to educate the public through anti-smoking campaigns, the CDC estimates that nearly 30 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. The main reason why so many smokers struggle to quit is due to their addiction to nicotine. Nicotine is a drug present in tobacco that stimulates the reward center of the brain and produces a pleasurable effect. The more you smoke, the more your body associates the act with feeling good. This dopamine-like effect is the root of addiction.
Long-time smokers will find that nicotine builds up in the body over time, increasing their tolerance and requiring higher doses, according to this blog post. As a result, withdrawal symptoms intensify, and quitting becomes more difficult. To combat this, some ex-smokers turn to tobacco-free nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) in an effort to quit successfully.
The benefits of smoking cessation
This report highlights that decreasing dependence on nicotine and tobacco products has been found to prevent individuals from reaching for more powerful substances. More importantly, smoking cessation has immediate health benefits. Within 20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure drop. Then, after 12 hours, carbon monoxide levels in the blood normalize. Eventually, the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and lung cancer greatly decreases as well. Studies indicate that every year, more adults have been attempting to kick their tobacco habit. Those who successfully do so attribute their accomplishment to a combination of strategies, which we’ll examine below.
Science-backed methods for cessation:
Seek behavioral support
For some, counseling may be helpful to address the emotional aspects of quitting. This can be sought through a healthcare provider, social networks, or self-help means. Individuals with underlying psychological issues such as depression or anxiety will find greater success if those issues are managed simultaneously. There are also apps available that can aid in curbing addiction. ‘Smoke-Free’ is a free-to-download app that can be used on iOS and Android devices. The app utilizes evidence-based behavior change techniques for smoking cessation. It features interactive graphs that plot your progression and tips to overcome cravings and allows you to participate in research to empower others to quit smoking.
Medications to help you quit
A study was conducted in Sweden's top hospitals with the aim of improving smoking cessation in patients after a myocardial infarction. Their findings highlight that overall, smoking cessation rates were significantly higher when patients were prescribed varenicline. Varenicline is a quit medication that blocks nicotine receptors in the brain, reducing pleasure derived from smoking. A prescription is required for varenicline and is usually taken ahead of the date you plan to quit.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
Based on an analysis by a Tobacco Prevention and Control Research Center in Iran, the implementation of NRTs is one of the most effective methods for quitting, which is supported by scientific papers. While counseling is ideal for treating the psychological aspects of quitting, NRTs may be useful for managing the physical side effects. It can alleviate withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and restlessness, which are common barriers to quitting. NRTs come in the form of nicotine pouches, gum, patches, and nasal sprays. Unlike tobacco, they do not contain as many harmful chemicals and have lower amounts of nicotine. Keep in mind that NRT has the potential for long-term dependence. Nicotine is addictive, and it's possible for NRT users to transfer their dependence from tobacco to the NRT. Quitting smoking is a journey, and everyone’s experience is different. Be patient with yourself and seek support when needed. The methods above can be valuable tools in your quest to quit smoking, but a tailored approach that addresses your personal needs is often the most successful.
This article was written for WHN by Megan Smith who is a passionate freelance writer and dedicated health advocate with a mission to empower individuals to lead healthier lives. Through her work, she strives to inspire and educate others on the path to better well-being.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
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References/Sources/Materials provided by:
Heydari, G., Masjedi, M., Ahmady, A.E., Leischow, et al. A Comparative Study on Tobacco Cessation Methods: A Quantitative Systematic Review. Int J Prev Med. 2014 Jun; 5(6): 673–678.
How Long Does Nicotine Stay in Your System? Prilla.com (2022) https://prilla.com/us/blog/how-long-does-nicotine-stay-in-your-system
How Nicotine Can Act as a Gateway Drug to Further Addiction. WorldHealth.net.
Leosdottir, M., Wärjerstam, S., Michelsen, H.Ö. et al. Improving smoking cessation after myocardial infarction by systematically implementing evidence-based treatment methods. Sci Rep 12, 642 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-04634-5
*Note: hyperlink replaced at author request on 9/25/2023