Most cigarette smokers are aware of the potential deadly outcomes that can result from habitual nicotine addiction. Yet, millions of people continue to smoke.
The dangers of cigarettes are clearly written on every pack. Despite the warnings, people continue to smoke cigarettes – even though more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This epidemic spreads across the globe, with the use of tobacco resulting in nearly six million deaths per year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports that the use of tobacco will result in more than eight million deaths each year by 2030.
Fortunately, there are effective natural ways to quit smoking, which is what we’ll cover in this guide.
We’ve compiled expert research on this topic from sources including Medical Doctors, the Centers for Disease Control, National Cancer Institute, and the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative.
This information is designed to arm you with education, but should not be substituted for medical advice from your regular health care provider.
We’ll begin by discussing the reasons why cigarette smoking is so hard to quit, which is largely attributed to withdrawal symptoms – some of which can be excruciating both physically and emotionally. These factors are important to understand so you know what to expect when you decide to quit smoking.
Then, we’ll offer tips on how to stop smoking cigarettes naturally. We’ll conclude this guide with the many benefits that come with quitting the nicotine habit.
Nicotine Addiction – Why Kicking This Habit Is So Tough
Cigarettes are addictive for the simple fact that a puff of nicotine makes the smoker feel good.
When you inhale smoke from a cigarette, it delivers large amounts of nicotine to your brain very quickly, according to Amanda L. Graham, Ph.D., a research investigator in the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Truth Initiative.
“This stimulates a release of dopamine, a chemical transmitter that is responsible for attention, reward, and habit forming,” said Dr. Graham, who is also an adjunct professor of oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center, and a member of Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Every time you take a puff, nicotine enters the bloodstream and eventually hits the brain in as little as eight seconds, said Daniel Takeda, a Medical Doctor with Adventist Health Physicians Network who specializes in family medicine.
“It’s a fast-acting drug,” Dr. Takeda said. “When it gets into the brain, it stimulates some of the pleasure centers of the brain, so you release neurotransmitters that make you feel better. When you take a puff, you get an immediate positive reaction in the brain that your brain gets used to.”
Particular activities like taking a break or drinking coffee, or feelings such as stress, boredom, or anger, become associated or reinforced with using tobacco, Dr. Graham noted.
“These associations can be very strong and unconscious,” Dr. Graham said. “It might even seem like your body reaches for a cigarette before your mind even realizes it.”
Now that we have a better understanding of what happens to the body with a puff of nicotine, let’s look at the withdrawal symptoms that can occur when smokers decide to quit. Knowing what can expect from these symptoms can help prepare you for the day you decide to kick the habit.
Withdrawal Symptoms Associated With Kicking Nicotine Addiction
Cigarette smokers who go long enough without nicotine will go through withdrawal symptoms, Dr. Takeda said.
“You will not feel good – there is depression and there is anxiety,” he said. “There is very much a psychological part of withdrawal. Your brain will want you to continue and do anything for you to continue that habit.”
Dr. Graham noted that withdrawal happens because the brain has changed. As a result, nicotine is needed to produce what was once a normal amount of dopamine.
Some withdrawal symptoms are primarily psychological, which we cover in the next section with input from Ryan Sharma, a Doctor of Psychology who is the associate professor and director of clinical training at the Graduate School of Psychology at California Lutheran University in Southern California.
7 Psychological Symptoms Associated With Tobacco Withdrawal
According to Dr. Sharma, the following are often barriers for people when they try to quit smoking:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Depressed mood
“The science behind these symptoms is largely physiological in nature,” Dr. Sharma said. “A lot of it has to do with how the brain produces dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for our experience of pleasure and ability to focus.”
When someone starts smoking, the nicotine stimulates dopamine release and the brain slows natural production, Dr. Sharma explained.
When smokers quit, the brain doesn’t immediately produce dopamine at normal levels: 15 to 20 percent less dopamine production occurs immediately after smoking cessation.
“So there’s a period of time where the person has difficulty experiencing pleasure or maintaining focus,” Dr. Sharma noted. “This may explain these withdrawal symptoms. However, recent studies show that brains can return to normal dopamine regulation after a period of about three months.”
There may be social and other aspects as well that are associated with nicotine addiction, which we cover in the next section.
Social, Experiential and Cognitive Factors Associated With Quitting Nicotine Addiction
According to Dr. Sharma, when it comes to nicotine addiction and quitting, there are also social, experiential and cognitive factors to consider.
Social Factors Linked to Nicotine Addiction
Social factors that make it difficult to quit include having friends or family members that also smoke or being in social situations where smoking is more common – like parties and night clubs, Dr. Sharma said.
“In social psychology, this is known as normative social influence, where individuals conform to the behaviors of those around them for acceptance,” he said.
Experiential Factors Linked to Nicotine Addiction
Experiential factors include both the sensation of being stimulated by the nicotine as well as the avoidance of negative experiences, Dr. Sharma explained.
“In other words, smoking is both positively reinforced by getting a reward, the buzz,” he said, “and negatively reinforced – removing an unwanted sensation, like a craving.”
Cognitive Factors Linked to Nicotine Addiction
Cognitive factors associated with high rates of relapse have to do with errors that we make in our thinking, Dr. Sharma noted. He provides the following examples of erroneous thoughts that we may have that inhibit quitting:
- “I could quit anytime.”
- “I’m having urges, therefore I am weak.”
- “I won’t ever be able to quit.”
Now that we’ve covered the physical and psychological symptoms typically associated with quitting nicotine, let’s talk about ways to cope with these symptoms, which could lead to quitting – and ultimately your own empowerment.
Psychological Therapies Can Help Smokers Quit
Dr. Sharma said there are a number of useful psychological therapies that can also help, including some that are self-directed.
“Perhaps a key insight for many people who are trying to quit includes examining the assumptions around cravings, which is usually the primary reason people report after relapse,” he said.
These assumptions around cravings include:
- Cravings are unbearable
- Cravings will only get worse the longer you try to fight them
- Cravings will only get more frequent
- The only way to make a craving go away is to smoke
“These assumptions are erroneous,” Dr. Sharma emphasized.
In an attempt to correct these false assumptions, Dr. Sharma offers several tips to help cope with nicotine addiction. Dr. Graham and other expert sources also contribute advice in the following section, which offers 10 ways to quit smoking naturally without any medication.
How to Stop Smoking Cigarettes Naturally
1. View Nicotine Cravings Like Waves in the Ocean
Dr. Sharma noted a therapy called “urge surfing,” which helps clients re-conceptualize how they experience their urges to smoke.
As the name of the therapy implies, clients are taught to treat cravings as though they are waves in the ocean, and instead of trying to fight with them, they “ride” them, he said.
“In other words, cravings come and go like any other experience,” Dr. Sharma said.
2. Accept Nicotine Cravings – Don’t Avoid Them
When clients just accept the cravings instead of trying to avoid them, clients learn first-hand that the cravings are indeed bearable, he noted.
“They do not just get worse, they decrease in frequency over time, and they do not need a cigarette to make them go away,” Dr. Sharma said.
3. Remain Focused on Personal Values
Other strategies include staying focused on personal values and commitment in life and how smoking inhibits those values.
“For example, someone may have a value to be healthy, to be present for their family, or to be independent of addiction,” Dr. Sharma said. “The more someone experiences discomfort in their movement towards these values, the more meaningful they are.”
4. Try Different Methods Simultaneously
Dr. Sharma’s advice for people who continue to struggle with quitting is to try various methods or multiple methods simultaneously.
“Some methods seem to work for some but not for others, so it’s just a matter of finding something – or a combination of some things – that work,” he said.
5. Seek Support from the Ex Community
“Quitting is hard, there’s no doubt about it,” Dr. Graham said. “The most important thing is to keep trying to quit, and try different approaches until you find what works for you.”
If you feel you can’t do it alone, Dr. Graham suggested tapping into the EX Community, which is comprised of hundreds of current and former smokers active each day who are eager to connect and share what’s worked for them.
“Many EX Community members have made multiple efforts to quit and understand how it feels,” Dr. Graham said. “They are available 24/7 for encouragement, wisdom, celebration – or just to chat.”
6. Seek Support from BecomeAnEX
“You don’t ever have to quit on your own, without support,” Dr. Graham said.
Sites like BecomeAnEX.org offer a variety of resources to help you prepare.
According to the website, the EX Plan is based on scientific research and practical advice from ex-smokers. The site emphasizes that the goal isn’t just about quitting smoking – rather, it’s about “re-learning life without cigarettes.”
“On BecomeAnEX, you can make your own free, personalized quit plan,” Dr. Graham noted. “Plus, BecomeAnEX has a caring community of thousands of other smokers and former smokers lending their support to each other.”
7. Get Help from Smokefree Text Messaging Programs
Cigarette smokers can get 24-7 assistance through four text messaging programs offered through Smokefree.gov. Some text message and data rates may apply if you tap into these. The following programs are designed to provide round-the-clock tips, advice, and encouragement:
- SmokefreeTXT is geared for both women and men who have decided to quit the nicotine habit.
- SmokefreeTeen targets teenagers ranging from 13 to 19 years old who want to kick cigarettes.
- SmokefreeMOM is designed for women who are pregnant that want to cut back on cigarettes and ultimately quit smoking.
- SmokefreeVET offers support to military service veterans who have VA health care benefits who are ready to quit their addiction to smoking.
8. Get Help from Smokefree Apps for Your Smartphone
Smokefree.gov offers round-the-clock support through two smartphone apps:
QuitGuide: This free app is designed to help smokers keep track of their cravings by the time of day and location. Whenever a smoker tracks a craving, they are provided with inspirational messages to keep them motivated. The QuitGuide also offers tips to help smokers cope with cravings and mood swings.
quitSTART : This free app, geared for teenagers, offers tips to help manage mood swings as well as nicotine cravings. Teens can also earn badges on this app for their smoking cessation achievements. There are also games teens can play on this app to help distract them from smoking.
9. Chat With a Live Expert
Talking with a live person on the phone can be helpful for smokers who have a difficult time quitting the habit.
- Information specialists are available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday eastern time at LiveHelp, which is offered through the National Cancer Institute.
- Trained counselors with the National Cancer Institute are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday eastern time at 877-44U-QUIT.
- There are “quitlines” available in all states in which smokers can connect with trained counselors. To connect with your state’s quitline, call 800-QUIT-NOW.
10. Replace Cigarette Smoking With Healthy Habits
Nicotine is physically and psychologically addictive, so swapping cigarettes with a healthy habit can help distract you from grabbing the next smoke. Cravings do pass, so the following activities can be helpful with getting over that hump.
Do activities that make it impossible for you to smoke, such as doing aerobics or yoga, taking a dip in the swimming pool, or playing sports like tennis.
Smoking requires the use of your hands. Engage your hands in other activities, like doing chores around the home, knitting, toiling in the garden, writing letters or thank you notes or giving yourself a pedicure and manicure.
Now that we’ve looked at 10 ways to quit smoking cigarettes, let’s explore the benefits of removing nicotine from your life.
Eight Benefits of Kicking the Nicotine Habit
It goes without saying that quitting cigarettes comes with many health benefits. Kicking the nicotine habit can also save you quite a bit of money, especially when you consider a pack of cigarettes can cost up to $9 in states like California, which recently passed the Tobacco Tax Increase Initiative.
In addition to saving money, the following are eight other benefits of quitting smoking for good, according to information provided by sources including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society:
Smokers who quit have a lower risk of developing lung cancer.
When smokers give up nicotine, their risk of heart disease is reduced.
Cigarette smokers typically experience shortness of breath, as well as wheezing and coughing. These respiratory symptoms are reduced when smokers quit, making simple tasks easier, like climbing the stairs or doing chores around the house.
Nicotine poses a risk of infertility for women who want to have babies, so quitting cigarettes before pregnancy reduces this possibility. Also, females who quit nicotine while they’re pregnant reduce the risk of giving birth to a low-weight baby.
Nicotine has a damaging effect on a smoker’s appearance, such as tooth loss, gum disease, stained teeth, yellow fingernails and premature wrinkling. Overall, kicking the habit can reduce the aesthetic harm caused by smoking.
Cigarette smoke has a distinct smell, resulting in bad breath, smoke-filled hair, stinky clothes and other displeasing scents. So quitting the habit can leave you smelling better overall.
Nicotine can dull your senses, such as taste and smell. Smokers who quit typically report better food tasting and an improved sense of smell.
People who give up smoking tend to have a longer lifespan than they would have if they continued the habit. For instance, individuals who quit nicotine before they turn 50 years old can be half as likely to die in their next 15 years compared to those who keep smoking.
Kicking the Nicotine Habit: The Bottom Line
Withdrawals from nicotine make it hard for smokers to quit, including irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia and difficulty concentrating.
Fortunately, there are ways to quit nicotine naturally – without the use of medication.
These smoking cessation techniques include a therapy called “urge surfing,” in which smokers view cravings as though they are waves in the ocean, and instead of trying to fight cravings, they “ride” them until they pass.
Numerous sources are also available online to help smokers cut down or quit.
Other methods to help smokers quit include replacing cigarettes with healthy habits that make it impossible to smoke, such as doing yoga, playing sports like tennis, or toiling in the garden.
Smokers who successfully quit have a lower risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease. People who kick the nicotine habit also tend to look better, because smoking can cause stained teeth, yellow fingernails, and premature wrinkling.
Above all – quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.
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