By Lloyd Morgan
Statistics say that over 70 per cent of smokers want to quit. So what’s stopping them? For many, the thought of going through lengthy withdrawal symptoms is enough to send the hand snaking towards the Camel pack. In reality, the pangs are far less than people fear. But how long do they last?
Giving up smoking is like getting addicted in reverse so it’s important to understand the nicotine addiction process. Scientists used to think addiction was a long drawn out process taking up to a year. Now they’ve come to recognize it begins with the first puff when nicotine enters the brain.
Nicotine is a psychoactive drug causing changes in brain chemistry. Researchers have found that nicotine takes over the reward pathways. These are an part of an area of the brain that rewards good and useful behavior with a feeling of pleasure. It does this by stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
The brain learns the intake of nicotine is good and remembers the sensation of smoking as pleasant. Nicotine actually causes changes to brain chemistry. So when the smoker quits and nicotine intake is stopped, the brain needs a period of adjustment to get back to normal. During this period, the ex-smoker feels the pangs of need for tobacco.
Though the blood is free of nicotine within less than 100 hours of the last cigarette, only when those brain changes are undone is the ex-smoker truly free from the physical addiction to nicotine. This is a gradual process and much is done in two to three weeks or so. But the physical component is not the only danger.
Mental addiction is another facet of smoking that makes quitting so difficult. This means associating smoking with regular activities, places and situations. It makes up the ‘habit’ aspect of smoking. Examples are morning coffee, after lunch, with a beer in the pub. All pleasurable daily routines associated with lighting up a cigarette.
During this crucial period vigilance is required as the craving to smoke can flare up out of the blue. So what to do when this happens? The pangs of nicotine withdrawal can be likened to an itch waiting to be scratched. So the thing to do is to scratch without using cigarettes. Green tea and herbal teas such as valerian are useful when the pangs come. Another option is the draw on a menthol inhaler. And any form of activity especially exercise is good. Ideally the ex-smoker to be would prepare a grab bag of techniques in readiness. And hypnotherapy can be effective in the treatment of mental addiction
The magic day arrives when you go to bed and realize the thought of a cigarette hasn’t entered your mind all day. This should happen by day 90 at the latest and is a wonderful feeling. Six months after taking the last puff, you’ll be free.
Understanding the addiction process is a key factor in quitting successfully. Make the decision to quit now and find a method that suits you.
Lloyd Morgan is a writer on health matters and reformed smoker. For more resources to help you quit smoking, please visit: smokefree.ampawan.com
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