Why Is It So Hard to Quit Smoking?
Mark Twain said, "Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." Maybe you've tried to quit too. Why is quitting and staying quit hard for so many people? The answer is nicotine.
Nicotine is a drug found naturally in tobacco. It is highly addictive – as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Over time, the body becomes both physically and psychologically dependent on nicotine. Studies have shown that smokers must overcome both of these addictions to be successful at quitting and staying quit.
When smoke is inhaled, nicotine is carried deep into the lungs, where it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body. Nicotine affects many parts of the body, including your heart and blood vessels, your hormonal system, your metabolism, and your brain. Nicotine can be found in breast milk and even in cervix mucous secretions of smokers. During pregnancy, nicotine freely crosses the placenta and has been found in amniotic fluid and the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants.
Several different factors can affect the rate of metabolism (the work of the living cell in the body) and excretion (or getting rid of the waste) related to nicotine. In general, a regular smoker will have nicotine or its by-products present in the body for about 3 to 4 days after stopping.
Nicotine produces pleasant feelings that make the smoker want to smoke more. It also acts as a kind of depressant by interfering with the flow of information between nerve cells. As the nervous system adapts to nicotine, smokers tend to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke, and therefore the amount of nicotine in their blood. After a while, the smoker develops a tolerance to the drug, which leads to an increase in smoking over time. Over time, the smoker reaches a certain nicotine level and then smokes to maintain this level of nicotine. In fact, nicotine, when inhaled in cigarette smoke, reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body intravenously.
When smokers try to cut back or quit, the absence of nicotine leads to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is both physical and mental. Physically, the body reacts to the absence of nicotine. Psychologically, the smoker is faced with giving up a habit, which requires a major change in behavior. Both must be addressed in order for the quitting process to work.
Withdrawal symptoms can include any of the following:
dizziness (which may only last 1-2 days in the beginning)
feelings of frustration and anger
sleep disturbances, including having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and having bad dreams or even nightmares trouble concentrating
These symptoms can lead the smoker to again start smoking cigarettes again to boost blood levels of nicotine back to a level where there are no symptoms.
If a person has smoked regularly for a few weeks or longer and abruptly stops using tobacco or greatly reduces the amount smoked, withdrawal symptoms will occur. Symptoms usually start within a few hours of the last cigarette and peak about 2 to 3 days later. Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days to several weeks. For information on coping with withdrawal, see the section, "How to Quit."
Health concerns usually top the list of reasons people give for quitting smoking. About half of all smokers who continue to smoke will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also a risk factor for many other kinds of cancer as well, including cancer of the mouth, voice...