Smokers have a lot of questions about the process of smoking cessation. Most smokers perceive smoking cessation as an insurmountable challenge, convincing themselves that it’s something they can’t do or that it’s ‘too late’ for them.
It’s never too late!
Quitting smoking is not easy but it’s not something that cannot be accomplished, either. The important thing is to know what to expect and how to deal with the problems and the cravings that arise along the way.
Knowing the answers to some of the most common questions smokers ask before they start with smoking cessation will help you put things into perspective and to realize that the outcome doesn’t have to be as bleak as you imagine it.
I’m a heavy smoker. Am I past the point of no return?
Everyone feels certain trepidation in the days leading to their quitting effort – heavy smokers and recreational smokers alike. It’s important to remember that no one is past the point of no return. Heavy smokers (people who smoke more than a pack of cigarettes per day) will likely have a tougher time with cravings and other withdrawal symptoms so steely determination is the key.
I’ve already tried quitting and I failed in the past. What if I can’t do it?
Again, everyone can quit smoking, just as everyone can fight and defeat a number of other addictions. The sad truth is that most smokers have tried to quit at least once in their lifetime (some multiple times) and they didn’t succeed. Remember that each attempt is a brand new start. Prepare yourself, make a quit plan that will work for you and stick to it.
Review your past cessation attempts and make note of things that made you relapse – plan ahead on how to avoid the same pitfalls. Practice makes perfect and being prepared is the best way to ensure your success. When should I quit smoking?
The most obvious answer would be: ‘The sooner, the better’. However, it’s probably the wrong answer. No one can help you pinpoint the best day to quit smoking because tomorrow might not work for you. You know your lifestyle the best. Choose a day of the week that is usually the least stressful for you. For some people, it’s Friday – the last day of work. This also gives you an opportunity to plan the next two days around your quit smoking attempt.
However, Friday won’t work for everyone. Some people are heavy smokers only on the weekends when they are in social situations and they smoke moderately or very little during the week. In that case, Mondays’ might be your best bet. Start your cessation attempt on Monday and by Friday you will already be nicotine free and ready to tackle the weekend cravings head on.
There’s no magic formula here. Quit when you feel you’re ready but allow yourself some time to get adjusted to that decision and to prepare for success.
How should I approach my smoking cessation?
People who succeed in their attempt usually work from a ‘Quit Smoking Plan’ they’ve prepared earlier. Basically, it’s your quit smoking Bible that you wrote exclusively for yourself.
In the plan, detail your reasons for quitting smoking. Focus on the biggest ones’ first – how it will benefit your health and well-being as well as the well-being of everyone around you. Consider your loved ones – each and every one of them has a greater chance of getting cancer if they are around you while you smoke. Secondhand smoke is a silent killer.
Identify your smoking triggers and list them in the plan. Try to avoid as many of them as you can. Also, write down several methods you will use to distract yourself once the cravings start. Explore a couple of new hobbies and make room in your plan to give each of them a try. Finding something you can do when the cravings start will help preoccupy your mind.
Print out your plan and tape it to your fridge and at other places in your home. Take one copy to work and tape it to your desk. Let it serve as a constant reminder that you can and will succeed – and that following that plan will get you there.
What to expect in the first few day after quitting smoking?
The first 72 hours are the toughest (read more about quit smoking timeline). Your body is deprived of nicotine and the cravings start. It’s important to remember that nicotine cravings come in waves. They are usually relatively short-lasting and can occur several times during the day.
Some people also experience an increase in their appetite, a tingling sensation in their hands and feet, and problems concentrating. The increase in appetite is normal as your blood sugar levels are dropping and your metabolism is slowing down. The other two symptoms are short-lived and should be gone by the time you hit the 2-week nicotine-free mark.
A relatively large number of smokers will also experience restlessness and irritability. Quitting smoking is pretty much the same as weaning yourself from any other drug – you will lash out at those closest to you. Talk to your family and friends and let them know what you’re going through – in all likelihood, they will be more than supportive.
How do I manage my withdrawal symptoms?
The hardest withdrawal symptoms to manage are nicotine cravings. They can strike at any time of the day and can be triggered by everyday actions such as having a cup of coffee or taking a walk. It’s best to avoid smoking triggers for the first couple of days into cessation period. Substitute coffee with tea and avoid social situations which could prompt you to have a cigarette. That way you will reduce the number of cigarette cravings you have during one day.
It’s important to distract yourself once the cravings do start. They will last for up to 10 or 15 minutes and you just have to keep your mind occupied and not thinking about a cigarette for that amount of time.
In order to fight nicotine cravings, you can try:
- Cleaning out your oven
- Playing a game on your mobile phone
- Calling someone for support
- Going for a quick jog
- Picking up a notepad and a pen and doodling or writing something
Basically, you can do anything you like in order to distract yourself for those crucial couple of minutes. Exercise might be the smartest idea because physical exertion helps with cravings.
Other symptoms will include restlessness, irritability, depression, sore throat, coughing and more. Try to relax and breathe deeply to calm yourself and drink plenty of fluids. A spoonful of honey will help ease the sore throat symptoms.
I’m a social drinker. Does this mean I can no longer go out and have a couple of drinks with my friends?
If you’re indeed a social drinker then it shouldn’t be too difficult to have a couple of drinks while at a party. However, you should be careful. Alcohol lowers the inhibitions and makes it easier to relapse. To begin with, have one drink without smoking. This will help boost your morale and you will notice that, while difficult, it’s possible to have a good time without smoking. It becomes easier eventually but you should always remind yourself that you’re a recovering nicotine addict and that even one cigarette would harm your progress.
What about peer pressure?
People tend to smoke in social situations and sometimes the only thing that someone needs to relapse is to be offered a cigarette. Make sure that you tell all your friends and colleagues that you’re quitting cigarettes and ask them to refrain from offering you one or asking you to accompany them while they smoke.
I fear that I’ll be more stressed out once I stop smoking. Is that true?
It’s true that you will be more agitated and anxious for the first couple of days. It’s important to keep in mind that cigarettes don’t calm you down – you’re stressed out because you’re in withdrawal and cigarette addiction is what’s causing that stress in the first place. Once you are free of cigarettes your overall stress levels will be lower.
Last time I tried quitting I got depressed. Will that happen again?
It’s natural to feel as if you’re losing something when you’re going through the smoking cessation period. Some people can feel anxious and depressed as a result. Talk to your doctor – you might be a candidate for drug-assisted cessation. Drugs such as Varenicline and Bupropion inhibit nicotine cravings and act as a mild anti-depressant (learn more about quit smoking drugs and medications).
What if I smoke a cigarette?
It’s not the end of the world. As we already mentioned, it’s normal for people to relapse and not to succeed on their first try. Chalk it up to a lapse in judgment and get back on the horse. If you bought a pack get rid of it immediately and talk to someone who will be supportive. Don’t get discouraged – these things happen and one cigarette doesn’t invalidate your effort.
What if I can’t quit without assistance? Is nicotine replacement therapy dangerous?
Using nicotine replacement therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people have a tough time quitting without assistance and research shows that assisted cessation has up to 40% higher success rate. Nicotine replacement therapy is not dangerous but you should adhere to instructions. It’s important to remember that all those gums and patches contain nicotine and that they can be addictive in and of themselves. Use NTRs to ease cravings only when absolutely necessary. Nicotine replacement therapy should not be combined with nicotine-suppressant drugs. Pregnant women should also refrain from using NTRs as there was little to no research done in that area and there is no evidence that it’s safe.
Will I gain a lot of weight once I quit smoking?
First of all, smokers tend to weigh less than average for their age. This is because nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant. Once you stop smoking you can expect to gain anywhere from 4 to 9 pounds within a year – that would be considered normal. If you don’t want to gain any weight, we advise you to watch your calorie intake – a lot of ex-smokers substitute cigarettes with food, particularly food that is high in sugars. Also, make sure you exercise regularly: 3 45-minute sessions per week should keep you fit and healthy.