What MakesSmoking Addictive?

Kicking the Smoking Habit

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For most smokers, quitting is not just a one-time event; it's an on-again, off-again routine. They stop. They battle with it for a few days, weeks, or months. Then the craving reaches them and they decide, "What is one cigarette?" They light up, and then they are hooked once more and back to square one.

 Cigarettes are psychologically and physiologically habit-forming; no doubt about it. Studies on smoking show that laboratory mice learn what times of day they would be given their smoke exposure and at the ordained time, they race expectantly to the side of the cage where the smoke emerges. They need their smoke!  People who quit with success and stay away from cigarettes deserve loads of credit.

 It has taken years of research to start to realize exactly how and why the body becomes hooked to nicotine. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical that numbs the body's response to pain and gives a pleasurable feeling. A lot of addictive drugs, including cocaine and even caffeine, activate a dopamine reaction. Studies using brain scans indicate that smoking triggers a release of dopamine in the brain. Regrettably, the more you smoke, the more your body adapts to a higher level of dopamine release. What used to be an increased dopamine state is now normal, and so when you do not smoke, your body goes into withdrawal. The good news is that eventually, your dopamine state goes back to normal, and you don't need those levels. The challenge is how to stay smoke-free long enough to allow your body and brain readapt.

Among the problems with quitting is that initially, you feel worse. For the first few weeks, you get intense cravings and, because nicotine is a stimulant, relatively sluggish. After several weeks, those feelings would subside. Stick to your guns.

 There are numerous services and info sources that aid smokers to quit—starting from high-priced in-patient clinics to free support groups at your community centers. If you are serious about quitting, speak to your physician, lookup smoking-cessation programs and support groups in your region, buy a couple of books about kicking the habit, and consider pills and nicotine patches or gum to help relieve your cravings. Different techniques work better for different people.

 Only 2 percent of smokers who try to quit "cold turkey" can be successful in stopping the first time. Using nicotine patches doubles up the success rate to 4 percent. One study showed that combining the patch with anti-craving pills furthered the effectiveness to almost 60 percent.  Some have tried nicotine gums, and hypnotism.  The most successful and least difficult method so far is vaping – substituting actual tobacco smoking by use of electronic cigarettes.   Although many past smokers have attested to its effectiveness, the legal challenges and general approval by the FDA is still under debate in several countries.  

 A good deal of what keeps people smoking is addiction, but a percentage of it is habit as well. So while you are kicking your addiction, you may find it also helps to change your daily habits. Increasing the quantity of physical activity you get helps bring down the craving for cigarettes, and an increase in breathing and heart rate aids some people visualize that they are getting the nicotine out of their systems quicker. Changing the surroundings where you prefer to spend free time can help, particularly going to places like museums, libraries, theaters—and, progressively, bars and restaurants—where smoking is already prohibited. Small changes in daily habits can send you and your brain a strong message that things are going to be different this time around.


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