|Quitting smoking has proven to be easier said than done. / Photo by Dmytro Zinkevych via 123RF|
With every New Year and especially in this new decade, people come up with their resolutions in an attempt to cut out some of their bad habits. This usually includes giving up smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating unhealthy food. However, the odds of being able to stick to a New Year’s resolution is actually not good, according to The Conversation, an academic news website. It added that 80% of people will give up on their resolutions by February and only 20% of them actually stick to their new habits.
Why Is It So Hard to Quit Smoking?
Most smokers start young, usually in their teenage years. Those who have friends or parents who smoke are more likely to start smoking than those people who do not. Also, the tobacco industry’s advertisement, price breaks, and other promotions for its products also play a big part that can influence a number of the population to start smoking. The industry itself spends billions of dollars to create and market their products and show it as something exciting, glamorous, and safe even though around seven million people around the world have died prematurely because of smoking and the people who regularly smoke are more prone to developing lung cancer. Additionally, the risk of developing lung cancer is 25 times higher among male smokers compared to their non-smoking counterparts, as reported on Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems.
According to the American Cancer Society, anyone who starts using tobacco can become addicted to nicotine. Studies have shown that smoking is most likely to become a habit during the teen years and the younger the person begins to smoke, the more likely they will become addicted to nicotine. Moreover, according to a Surgeon General’s Report in 2014, nearly 9 out of 10 smokers have started the habit before the age of 18. This means that 3 out of 4 high school smokers will become adult smokers even if they intend to quit in a few years. Surprisingly, according to Statista, 68% of those who smoke more than one pack a day want to stop smoking compared to just 21% of those who smoked less than one pack a day.
Addiction to nicotine is the repeated, compulsive seeking or use of the substance despite its harmful effects and unwanted consequences. Addiction is a mental or emotional dependence on a specific substance or more and nicotine is the known addictive substance that is present in all tobacco products. The regular use of tobacco can lead to addiction in many users and it is believed to be as addictive as cocaine and heroin.
Furthermore, nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco are easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and then it quickly spreads throughout the body. When ingested, nicotine usually causes pleasant feelings and some sort of relaxation, and these effects would make the user want to use it more. Nicotine acts on the chemistry of the brain and central nervous system by flooding the brain’s reward circuits with a chemical called dopamine.
Over time, when the smoker regularly uses tobacco, the body adapts to nicotine and it raises the amount of nicotine needed to get the same effect. The smoker reaches a certain nicotine level and then will need to keep up the usage to keep the level of nicotine within a comfortable range in a way that they can still feel the full effect of it. Hence, smokers can quickly become dependent on nicotine and suffer physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop smoking tobacco. These withdrawal symptoms can include nervousness, headaches, irritability, and trouble sleeping.
Smoking and Mental Illness
According to the American Psychiatric Association, several studies claim that there is a link between smoking and mental illness. Biochemistry plays a part since nicotine is a very powerful drug and whenever somebody suffers from a mental illness they can become highly dependent on it. Dr. Judith Prochaska, a psychologist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center at Stanford University, claimed that in some cases, people with mental illness may be using tobacco to mask the symptoms or medication side effects. Some also might be more affected by nicotine withdrawal, and they can experience panic attacks and increased heart rate. This makes it harder for them to quit because of the withdrawal symptoms.
Moreover, tobacco smoke itself can alter the levels of psychiatric medication in the bloodstream because the tar in cigarette smoke can affect the rate at which the liver metabolizes certain medications. This causes the blood levels of antidepressants and antipsychotics to decline. When the patient quits smoking, blood levels rise and their old dose can become toxic for them.
Many people with mental disorders and who are already smokers even before they got diagnosed have a hard time quitting. Their body has already gotten used to the amount of nicotine they are usually exposed to and abruptly stopping their bad habit might also cause them further harm. Therefore, it is important for those people to seek professional help in order to do it safely and effectively.
Important Things to Remember When Dropping a Bad Habit
Perseverance is one of the main attributes a person must possess in order to quit their bad habit. It may take anywhere between 6 to 30 attempts to quit for those who are dependent on substances such as nicotine and to become abstinent. People who truly want to change their lifestyle and lead a healthier life must be determined to change their bad habits even if they fail in the first few attempts.
Also, planning is also one important component in quitting a bad habit. Conventional wisdom suggests that planning improves the chances of success. Picking the right way and time to start changing bad habits is likely to play a big part in the success of the endeavor. A person must take this new challenge when they feel highly motivated with a positive attitude so it can bring up their chances of actually succeeding and changing their ways.
Also, having a relapse in smoking should not be viewed as a failure or used as an excuse to give up the whole endeavor. People should view a lapse as an opportunity to grow and learn from their mistakes, and reflect on their actions as honestly as possible on why the lapse happened in the first place. Research has already shown that these processes are crucial for changing behavior and so these negative outcomes can still be used towards the ultimate goal -- which is to quit habits that only do harm to a person.
Lastly, it is important to remember that it is normal to fear withdrawal symptoms. Many people might worry that they will not be able to handle the withdrawal symptoms after quitting cigarettes so they rather not even try at all. However, the anticipated discomfort from these withdrawal symptoms is usually greater than the actual experience. So, it is important to focus on what they are gaining from cutting off this bad habit such as being healthier physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Other sources: https://ourworldindata.org/smoking#smoking-and-cancer