Deciding to quit smoking is a process. You might start by thinking of stopping – this is when you know it’s bad for your health but don’t really feel ready to quit. After that you start to motivate yourself to stop and maybe even tell others about your plans. Finally you decide you’re ready to stop smoking.
Why can it be so difficult to quit smoking?
Nicotine is highly addictive. When you think of all the reasons not to smoke, it seems strange that anyone would continue with such an expensive and unhealthy habit.
Nicotine works extremely fast, it stimulates the central nervous system, increasing the body’s heart rate, blood pressure and metabolism. When you smoke you will experience the effects of nicotine in 10-20 seconds. The effects of nicotine last 2 hours – the body gets rid of it very quickly. After 2 hours have passed your body will crave more nicotine – creating the vicious cycle of dependence.
When inhaled, nicotine temporarily relieves the withdrawal symptoms, while also strengthening the need to smoke more. Each cigarette smoked strengthens the desire for the next one. It’s a cruel circle but it can be broken.
The earlier a young person starts smoking, the higher their dependence level and changes in their brain chemistry occurs on smoking just three cigarettes. But the younger you quit, the better the chance you will stay smoke free for good.
Treatments are available to make your quit attempt more comfortable, and can reduce or remove withdrawals completely. To find out more about these, speak with your pharmacist or doctor or ask for referral to the free Smoking Cessation Services in your area.
How will my body react when I quit smoking?
You may feel pretty bad for a while when you first give up smoking because your body is experiencing nicotine withdrawal.
Physical side effects
You may also suffer from headaches, mood swings, tiredness, crankiness, dizziness or light-headedness. These symptoms are only temporary and the majority subside within 3 weeks. This is a positive sign of your body repairing – oxygen levels and circulation are improving with the removal of the poisonous gas, carbon monoxide, from your system.
You may feel you have to cough more, because your lungs are attempting to clean out the tar that has built up over time. It is also fairly common to get constipation for a few days and other digestive problems as the body tries to get used to not having nicotine in your body.
Most people who use tobacco don’t have a regular breakfast and relied on smoking to regulate their bowels. So, having a high fibre breakfast cereal first thing is key- add fibre, fruit and plenty of water to your daily diet to resolve or prevent constipation.
Mental side effects
It is possible you may have low moods and irritability, as you are missing the stimulant effect of nicotine. Daily physical activity will help to clear your head and raise natural hormones levels to reduce stress and tension.
You may find you are more anxious or very tired and lethargic. These are all signs that your body is missing its addiction to the stimulant. Constant nicotine withdrawal from smoking raised your anxiety levels, while tricking you into feeling it was actually relieving the heightened anxiety it created. Daily physical activity will help burn off the excess adrenaline production and deep breathing techniques will reduce anxiety, improving your ability to deal with stress.
Sleep and diet
Inability to get to sleep or early wakening can also be as a result of quitting tobacco. Changing your nightly routine is important as the last episode of smoking was part of getting ready for bed or sleep. The early morning wakening is due to withdrawal from nicotine. In preparing to quit remove both of these before your quit date and have alternatives in place prior to your quit date.
A lot of people worry about putting on weight if they give up smoking, but quitting will actually make you healthier. In order to feel your best, try to eat healthy foods and enjoy exercise regularly while you are trying to quit. Remember to do the exercise you enjoy most – this will also help to relieve stress and lift your mood.
Don’t panic, the effects of withdrawal are only temporary and the longer your body goes without nicotine, the milder they get. If you’re feeling low just remember how much healthier you’ll be when you’re finally free of your addiction.
Not everyone gets all of these withdrawals, so don’t panic. These effects of withdrawal are only temporary and most resolve within 4- 6 weeks. Be advised that if you are having the occasional cigarette – they will continue. See the nicotine withdrawals as a positive sign that your body is healing and you are recovering from using tobacco and remember reprogramming your brain, changing your habits and routines take time.
Tips for quitting successfully
Getting support greatly increases your chances of quitting smoking. Ask your friends and family to encourage you and if they smoke, ask them not to smoke in front of you. If you’ve got a friend who smokes, ask them to quit with you so that you’ve got each other for support.
You can also contact the Quitline on Freephone 1800 201203 for one-to-one personal support and referral to local quit smoking services.
Make a quit plan
Think carefully about quitting and write down your reasons so that you feel more prepared. You can stick these on your wall as a reminder and to keep you motivated. Pick a date to quit and stick to it.
Visit quit.ie for lots of information and support, and to sign up for an online Quit Plan which will guide you through the quitting process day by day.
Get rid of anything that reminds you of smoking. Don’t leave lighters and empty packs lying around.
If there are certain things you always do with a cigarette (smoke break at work or your morning coffee) then change your routine to avoid these triggers. Do something else during that time, go for a walk instead of a smoke break or have a juice instead of coffee.
Have a strategy of how you will deal with cravings. Use the 4 Ds – Distract, Delay, Deep Breathe and Do something else.
Cravings might last up to five minutes but will then start to go away again. Get active as soon as the craving hits: walk around, make yourself a drink, get on your telephone and chat to someone. Or try our other smoke-free stress busters.
NRT or Nicotine Replacement Therapy is treatment that can reduce or remove the physical symptoms of smoking withdrawal. It is known to greatly increase your chances of quitting successfully. You can chat to your doctor, pharmacist or HSE Quit Team to see if NRT is right for you.
Don’t let setbacks derail you
If you slip up and have a cigarette on a night out or without thinking, try not to be too hard on yourself. Remind yourself again of why you’re quitting and get back on track. It can sometimes take a couple quit attempts to quit for good.
Treat yourself right by exercising, eating well, getting rest and rewarding yourself for a job well done. Quitting an addiction is difficult work. Treat yourself at the end of each week, fortnight or month. Take one day at a time: every day without a cigarette is a success.
What if I just cut down on smoking?
It’s not enough to just cut down on smoking, there is no ‘safe’ level of smoking, and the reality is that cutting down just doesn’t work. Even a small amount of nicotine is still highly addictive.
It has been proven that when people reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke, they take more ‘drags’ from each cigarette. They may also take the smoke deeper into their lungs, and hold it in their lungs for a longer period of time. This means they soak up the same amount of nicotine and other chemicals from fewer cigarettes.
The same thing happens when people switch to cigarettes with lower tar content. People end up actually smoking more cigarettes.
Get help and support to QUIT smoking
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about NRT.
- Visit Quit.ie for tips on how to stop smoking.
- Call the Quitline on Freephone 1800 201 203 to talk to someone who understands and can help you quit.
- Head to the Quit.ie Facebook page to read stories from others who have quit smoking and to share your own.
- Check out SpunOut’s articles about giving up cigarettes and more on www.spunout.ie/quit
Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit SpunOut.ie/QUIT