It is difficult to quit smoking tobacco products for three main reasons. First is the addictive power of nicotine, a chemical compound found naturally in tobacco leaves. People who have been smoking for a long time actually become dependent on this compound, and their brains trigger a number of adverse effects when it isn’t present. Second, people often smoke as a matter of routine or habit, and giving up can be hard because it requires a change of pattern — and in some cases also a change of friends or social venues. Quitting also usually triggers physical withdrawal symptoms that can last a long time. There are frequently a number of psychological reasons that go along with all of this, too. Smokers often light up when they’re stressed, for instance, and giving up often means finding new tactics. There are a number of different products people can buy to help them quit, including nicotine patches and gums; therapy and support groups are also beneficial for many people.
Chemical Properties of Nicotine
Addiction is one of the biggest challenges for people looking to quit. Nicotine is a stimulant drug that occurs naturally in the roots and leaves of the tobacco plant, and its presence a big reason why smoking these leaves is so popular: the drug makes people feel good, and can relieve tension and stress, at least in the short term. It also has the ability to impair nerve function, however, and can alter brain chemistry such that certain levels of it are actually required to function at levels that were once “normal.”
Nicotine is known chemically as C10H14N2. People inhale it when they smoke cigarettes, cigars, and other similar products, and from there it enters the bloodstream pretty quickly. It travels through the heart and to the brain, where it triggers generally pleasant sensations. Over months and years, these centers of the brain become accustomed to receiving and processing the drug, and people will begin to crave it if they don’t have it. Over time most people build up a tolerance to the drug, too, which means that they need to smoke more to get the same effects. In this sense, the longer a person waits, the harder it will likely be to quit.
Importance of Routine and Habit
For many people, smoking is also simply a way of life — it’s a habit, and like all habits, it can be hard to break. Most researchers agree that the longer a person does something or depends on a certain thing or substance, the harder it is to let go. The effects are usually most profound where chemicals are concerned, but other dependencies or learned behaviors can also fall within this category. People who always do something a certain way, or who always do two things together, often have a hard time changing their patterns.
Anyone who has smoked for a long time probably has rituals that go along with their habit. They may always smoke in certain venues, for instance, or with certain people; smoking while doing certain activities like drinking alcohol or watching television is also common. Coming up with replacement rituals or simply going without can take a lot of willpower and determination.
Withdrawal Symptoms and Cravings
Physical withdrawal is also a big reason why quitting is so difficult. In a lot of ways this goes hand in hand with the chemical aspects of the addiction in the first place. When a person’s brain is accustomed to getting certain levels of nicotine every day, tapering off or quitting can cause not just cravings for more, but also adverse physical reactions. People often begin feeling sick or nauseous; trembling, headaches, and insomnia are also common. Depending on how long the smoking has been going on, these symptoms can last for several weeks.
The psychological aspects of nicotine addiction can persist for much longer. Smokers frequently return to the habit when under stress, for example. They may also return to it as a form of weight control; nicotine often acts as an appetite suppressant, and people often find that they eat more and thus gain more weight when they stop smoking.
Tips and Tricks for Cutting Back
Most people find that they can’t quit smoking unless they really want it, and the exercise often takes a lot of work and motivation. Certain prescription drugs can help alleviate some of the worst side effects and cravings, and many people also find that it helps to slowly wean off of nicotine rather than quitting all at once. Nicotine patches that people can wear like adhesive bandages are often helpful, as these can deliver controlled amounts of the drug into a person’s blood; special chewing gums can do the same thing.
Some people also find that talking through their struggles with others is a good way to manage cravings and the stress that goes along with them. Some therapists offer counseling sessions and support groups for people trying to quit. Committing to get together with friends who are in a similar position or who are empathetic can also be helpful for many.