Why Is Quitting Smoking So Difficult? The Science Behind Addiction
Many ex-smokers say quitting smoking was the hardest thing they have ever done. This includes people who have climbed mountains and corporate ladders, or tackled childbirth. It can take a smoker multiple quit smoking attempts before they are completely smokefree. But despite these struggles, we know quitting is worth it. Just 20 minutes after quitting, our heart rates return to normal. A mere 12 hours later, carbon monoxide levels in the blood are back to normal, and as little as two weeks later lung function improves.
Make 2016 the year you go smokefree by understanding why quitting smoking is so difficult, and tacking those obstacles.
At the American Lung Association, we believe there is a "three-link chain" of physical, social and mental components to smoking addiction. Smokers have a better chance of quitting and staying smokefree if they address all three parts of the chain:
- Physical: Cigarettes contain an addictive chemical called nicotine, that when inhaled causes the release of another chemical called dopamine in the brain that makes you feel good. Unfortunately, after the dopamine wears off, these symptoms return which causes the smoker to crave another cigarette. Smokers also build up a tolerance and physical dependence on nicotine, meaning they have to smoke more to feel the same effect. There are seven FDA approved quit smoking medications that can help with these symptoms. Talk to a healthcare provider to see what options might be right for you.
- Mental: The act of smoking is often part of a daily routine. Smokers tend to light up at specific times of day—when drinking coffee or driving—or when they're feeling a certain way, like stressed or tired. Cigarettes can become a crutch, almost like a steady friend you can rely on. Stay on track with your quit by identifying these moments and triggers, and relearning or adjusting behaviors to stay strong during a craving.
- Social: Many smokers develop social groups around smoking—people will head out for a smoke break with friends or coworkers. Smoking can also be used as a social icebreaker by asking, "Got a light?" In that same vein, relying on social groups that support a quit smoking attempt can be helpful. In a recent survey, 80 percent of smokers reported that support from others, including friends, family, significant others and coworkers is very beneficial to successfully quitting. Rather than quitting in secret, reach out to your trustworthy friends and include them in your quit. Trust us, they'll want to support you.
If you're ready to quit, make 2016 the year you succeed with proven effective methods and support found in the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking®, an in-person and online smoking cessation program that has helped thousands of smokers quit for good.
In addition, the American Lung Association has collaborated with Pfizer to create Quitter's Circle, a new mobile app and social community designed to help smokers quit through educational, social and financial support. Within a few clicks, smokers can start a quit team with friends and family, personalize a quit plan and track progress, find resources to connect with a healthcare provider and start a quit fund—all in the palm of their hand.
Find more information about quit smoking resources online or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a certified tobacco treatment specialist.