You just love to smoke. You've told your friends you simply don't care if it will kill you. Something's got to kill us all eventually. Smoking is your right and part of your identity.
Still, even if you love almost everything about smoking, you know the health effects are highly likely to eventually catch up with you and perhaps with the people around you. Like a large majority of smokers, intellectually, you know you want to stop. But when you enjoy the experience of smoking and take personal pride in the habit, you may lose out on a lot of what motivates your fellow smokers to successfully quit. Figuring out how to quit smoking is a very different challenge when you like being a smoker but are ready to make a change.
Understanding yourself and the way your brain works is a good first step. Check out our ebook, “What is Your Smoker Personality” to learn more.
A recent article at The Conversation delved into the question of what it is that smokers enjoy when they say they like to smoke. The author provides eye-opening charts based on two renowned addiction specialists, Neil Benowitz and Jack Henningfield, on the relative addictive power of heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, caffeine and nicotine. They ranked these habit-forming substances on a scale of one to six.
Looking at the chart is highly instructive.
You quickly will see that both experts rated nicotine higher in terms of dependence than all the other drugs, including heroin and cocaine. With the term "dependence," these researchers are measuring how difficult it is to quit, the observed relapse rate, and the percentage who will eventually become dependent on the substance after trying it.
The severity of nicotine withdrawal also rated high in these assessments. Alcoholics and heroin users are the only two kinds of addicts who are consistently likely to suffer more during withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms can include anxiety, depressed mood, increased hunger, headaches, nausea, intestinal distress, fatigue, insomnia, irritability and tobacco cravings.
Curiously, nicotine falls behind the other drugs in terms of the perceived rewards of pleasurable reinforcement and intoxication.
Each time you smoke, the nicotine enters your lungs and crosses over into your bloodstream along with the oxygen your body was waiting to receive. The blood brings that nicotine into your brain where it triggers the release of neurotransmitters including dopamine. Dopamine is the signal your brain sends out to your mind and body to signify pleasure. You have just triggered a blast of the same kind of pleasure that every rewarding thing in your life gives you. Your brain now depends on nicotine, which starts fade from your system. And then you find yourself back on the slope into discomfort and craving. Time for another hit.
The first step in being in a position to quit is to recognise that you could be getting the same hit from many other sources, from action sports to a whole range of hobbies, and not experience that cycle of craving.
One bit of good news mentioned in the article is that ex-smokers in Australia greatly outnumber current smokers. All of those ex-smokers found ways to make it through to a world of new experiences, where they reported new pleasures such as feeling more energetic, not coughing in the morning, smelling the aromas from food and drink, and tasting flavors more intensely. All of them had new disposable income in hand. None of them gave up dopamine when they stopped smoking.
You are proud to be a smoker. You're not miserable. Still, you know that you would be healthier and spend your money on more rewarding interests if you could give it up. Fortunately, getting solid information from research and experience is one of the most powerful tools for stepping away from smoking. Whatever method you decide to use will work better with more insights into why you smoke, how to stop smoking and why people quit, and what will give you new personal satisfaction.
Download our free Guide to learn about the seven kinds of smoker personalities for additional insights. Many smokers find they are a composite of two of the major personality types and are able to draw from more than one strategy.