Smoking is one of the most challenging addictions to break, so quitting successfully means taking advantage of all of the help available to you. One of the most overlooked factors that can help you overcome addiction is support from loved ones and people going through similar issues to you.
You don’t need to quit smoking alone. While you may feel like quitting cold turkey and complaining about the cravings and withdrawal symptoms as little as possible is somehow “better” than making use of the treatments available and leaning on friends and family for support, when it comes to quitting smoking, the result is what matters. The key thing to realize is that relying on a strong support network doesn’t make you “weak” or anything of the sort: it’s a critical part of recovery for many people struggling with all sorts of addictions.
The Health Impacts of Smoking
The health impacts of smoking are so well-known it’s basically inconceivable that a smoker in the U.S. isn’t aware of the damage they’re doing to their bodies. Smoking damages nearly every organ in your body, according to the CDC, and is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.. Smoking is responsible for 90 % of all lung cancer deaths in both men and women, and about 80 % of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times (compared to the risk for a non-smoker), increases your risk of stroke by the same amount, and increases the risk of lung cancer by 25 to 26 times (slightly more in women).
This barely scratches the surface, but the message is abundantly clear: smoking kills.
Why Do People Smoke? Understanding Addiction
The fact that most Americans understand the serious health risks of smoking raises a puzzling question: knowing all this, why do people still smoke? The answer is complex and multi-faceted, but the simple answer is “addiction.”
Nicotine is an addictive drug, and other components in tobacco smoke make it even more addictive. When you use nicotine, it affects the “reward” pathways in your brain, and ultimately leads to an increase in dopamine. This is the same brain chemical implicated in most other addictions, such as cocaine addiction, and plays the role of rewarding and motivating you. For example, eating a big meal when you’re hungry causes a satisfied, happy feeling, and dopamine is central in this process. By making you feel good, dopamine rewards you for feeding yourself and encourages you to keep doing so in future.
When other substances or activities increase the amount of dopamine in your brain, they have the potential to be addictive. By creating big spikes in dopamine, you’re encouraged to repeat the activity or take the substance again in the same way you’re motivated to eat, have sex or be sociable with friends. This is why, when people become addicted, everything in their life starts to take a back seat. They’re getting plenty of dopamine by using drugs, so they don’t need to do other, more positive activities to get that reward.
While smokers don’t (ordinarily) lose their jobs, destroy their relationships or shun their friends because of their addiction, this same “pull” of addiction is why their knowledge of the health risks alone isn’t enough to convince them to quit. They may want to, but when it comes down to it, the temptation to light up another cigarette is too much to resist.
Why Support is Essential in Overcoming Addiction
The overview of addiction above is simplified, though. It doesn’t really explain why people try the substances in the first place. The answer to this can vary, but in general, people use substances as a coping mechanism for other issues, and smoking is no different. That’s why many of the best tips for overcoming addiction focus on learning healthier coping mechanisms and healthier ways to resist cravings.
However, one of the tips you’ll see everywhere isn’t often appreciated by people trying to quit smoking. Overcoming any addiction is challenging, and requires a lot of soul-searching, self-questioning and dedication. You can do all of these things for yourself, but being honest about why you smoke and any emotional issues quitting is bringing up can be difficult.
Group counseling sessions help this process along massively. You’re surrounded by people in the same situation as you, and each of you is usually encouraged to share your stories, the challenges you face and the emotions you have to work through. This not only serves as positive “peer pressure” to encourage you to do the same, other people’s stories can also give you valuable insight into what’s going on in your life.
But even if you don’t use group counseling, attending individual counseling or relying on friends or family is an equally valuable addition to treatment. Friends and family care about you and understand you; all you need is someone you trust who’s willing to help. When you’re struggling with cravings, having somebody to talk things through with – or even just to distract you – can make all the difference. Quitting smoking and support go hand-in-hand, and without the latter you’ll have a more difficult time overcoming addiction.
The really crucial thing to remember is that you aren’t in this alone. People in your life want you to be healthy and happy, and they can serve as your support network to help keep your spirits up and motivate you when you’re struggling to avoid smoking.