Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Well, we all know: quitting smoking reduces the risk of terrible illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease. It increases fertility levels, breathing and overall fitness. Another benefit of quitting is enjoying the taste of food again. You will look and smell better and on top of it all, save a lot of money. Why then is it so hard for many to stop the habit – or addiction – of smoking?
The reasons for smoking addiction can be cut down to 2 important factors: nicotine and habits.
Nicotine, for one, is a highly addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco, and hooks your brain by stimulating it with a shot of dopamine, the hormone that tells us that food and sex are pleasurable. It also increases activity in areas of the brain that are believed to be involved in cognitive functions, so a cigarette can make you feel sharper and more focused. As if that weren’t enough, nicotine also increases the endorphin levels, the proteins that give you feelings of euphoria. Needless to say that having a ‘tool’ that can make you feel better in these ways, is something you don’t give it up easily. Quitting may leave you feeling deprived, and you may exhibit serious withdrawal symptoms if you have to go without nicotine.
Another important factor for this specific kind of addiction is habits – the patterns that are involved in smoking. Smoking behavior usually becomes closely linked with daily activities and ‘cues’ such as: after a meal, when socializing with friends, to ‘take a break’, when under stress (to relax), when relaxing (to relax further), etc. These aspects of smoking can be just as challenging to overcome as the physical dependence.
Consequently, most people who want to quit smoking once and for all, require an approach that deals with both vulnerabilities: the addiction itself and the behavioral aspects of it. The current ‘traps’ have to be identified and after that, new patterns and routines to be developed that make it easier to ‘skip’ the impulse to look for a cigarette. Hypnotherapy can support in this aspect by allowing our mind to adapt to the new behavior, but it can’t do wonders without the patient’s strong dedication to getting rid of their smoking addiction. The first few weeks without cigarettes are usually the hardest. After 8-12 weeks, most individuals who make it that far start to feel more comfortable without smoking. Still, only 3 in 10 people can successfully stop smoking once and for all.
(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)