Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to mankind. When you smoke, you inhale nicotine, which causes an instant reaction in your body. It affects your blood pressure and oxygen levels in the blood and stimulates the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical substance in the body that makes you ‘feel good’. It also affects your mood, appetite and other brain functions.
When you smoke, it takes all of 10 seconds for nicotine to reach your brain through the lungs, giving you an instant ‘kick’. As nicotine gets metabolised, its level in the blood drops. The smoker is then chemically triggered to light another cigarette, making this a hard chain to break. The brain seeks the feeling regularly, making smoking a habit. It’s the same for all nicotine products. And when the user stops using nicotine suddenly, he experiences prolonged withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, irritability and trouble concentrating. They crave a fix and try to reverse the unpleasant feelings.
A large majority of smokers relapse within a short span because of lack of adequate support. An average smoker goes through multiple attempts and nearly 7 – 8 quit cycles before becoming successful and tobacco free.
NRT: your buddy in the fight
Quitting is a process and both the tobacco user and their supporters need to realise this. If a smoker is convinced to quit and has the right motivation and support then there are loads of options available. Willpower alone is not sufficient and a smoker has better chances if s/he seeks professional help to kick the habit and uses smoking control aids.
Staying focussed on living a healthy life helps tremendously. Initially, avoid all situations that trigger your craving such as drinking tea, coffee or alcohol. The first few weeks are the most important as that’s when the psychological cues are strongest; it becomes easier to quit smoking once you tide over this phase. Over time, the cravings steadily reduce, making it easy to leave the habit entirely.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy [NRT] helps switching to a healthy lifestyle. It substitutes the nicotine present in cigarettes with therapeutic nicotine devoid of chemicals like tar, carbon monoxide and other known carcinogens. Studies show that people who use NRT have double the chance of quitting than those who use non-NRT products. This therapy is also recommended by the World Health Organization. Compared to smoking where you also ingest several other carcinogens, NRT is a safer method of consuming nicotine; it has been used effectively by smokers around the globe. Once the psychosocial need to smoke has been overcome with the help of NRT, nicotine dependence is eliminated by successively reducing the dose of nicotine replacement. NRT is available in the form of gums, patches, lozenges, nasal sprays and inhalers.
Other things to help you
Understanding the nature of your addiction and identifying the triggers can help control the cravings. There are many other means, which you can adopt to stop yourself from reaching out for that cigarette.
- Work towards your interests. Do things you always wanted to do, be it playing a shuttle game, joining a swimming class or taking that long planned vacation. Clichéd, but it works.
- On a clean sheet of paper, list the reasons and names of people that drove you to quit smoking and always keep the sheet with you. Whenever you get the craving to light up, take a good look at the sheet. Chances are you will feel a lot more responsible and confident to tackle the urge.
- Reward yourself for reaching every single milestone, no matter how small or big—such as going without smoke for an entire day. It is important to track the journey and look forward to the successful end.
- Sip some water or tea when you get a craving. Your craving will have faded by the time you are through with your drink.
- Join kick boxing, karate or judo to help you let out your frustrations and deal with the mood swings. A brisk walk or meditation can help too.
- Note the triggers that lead you to light up and distract yourself from them the next time a trigger goes off.
- Chew on something nutritious if you want your mouth to be engaged. Carry a small box of nuts of your choice or a box of fresh diced fruits. This will provide you with essential nutrients and keep you away from the smoke too.
- Talk to someone you are most comfortable with—a mentor or an ex-smoker. Speaking with someone who has been through the same ordeal, helps in the determination department.
- Keep your willpower and morale up all the time, more so at the time of cravings. It is important to remind yourself of the reasons to quit and to strengthen your resolve.
Difference between Nicotine and Caffeine
Nicotine is a substance that is found only in the leaves of the tobacco plant. It stimulates the central nervous system through the respiratory tract, and hence effects instantly. It triggers the release of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Smokers report experiencing a ‘calming effect’ after smoking a cigarette. Nicotine blocks the release of insulin, which helps the body absorb excess glucose from the blood. That’s why the blood of smokers has more sugar in it than usual—one of the reasons why smoking curbs appetite.
Caffeine is a substance that is found mainly in the coffee plant but also in tea. It stimulates the central nervous system by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine, which has a calming effect. As a result, the flight or fight response kicks in giving an adrenaline rush. The heart rate shoots up, pupils dilate and muscles tighten—you feel an energy buzz. Caffeine affects your sleep, keeping you awake longer.
This was first published in the March 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!