Smoking is both a physical addiction and a habit. Combining medication with a quit-smoking program doubles your chance of quitting for good.
Smoking can be a very tough habit to kick. Nicotine is powerfully addictive – as much so as heroin or cocaine. Quitting causes withdrawal symptoms. Then there’s the mental aspect. Smoking is a habit, and as anyone knows, habits are hard to break.
Quitting may not be easy, but you can do it. The key is to deal with both the physical and mental aspects of the addiction. Luckily, there are lots of tools that can help you, including:
- Medication to ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal
- Coaching and support to help you change your habits and make the changes stick
Combining medication with a quit-smoking program or other support doubles your chance of success.
Overcoming physical addiction
When you quit smoking, it’s common to feel irritable, tense and restless for a short time. These withdrawal symptoms occur because your body isn’t getting the nicotine it craves. Medications can help ease these symptoms until they go away.
Nicotine replacement therapy involves using products that release small, controlled amounts of nicotine into the body. This helps reduce the cravings that can undermine attempts to quit. Over time you gradually reduce and then stop using them. There is strong evidence that nicotine replacement helps people quit smoking.
Nicotine replacement comes in five different forms. Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges can be bought over the counter. Nicotine inhalers and nasal spray require a prescription. All of them are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and they seem to work equally well.
Each type of nicotine replacement has some pros and cons. It’s a good idea to discuss the choices with your doctor. This is especially important if you are pregnant or have any health issues. For more information, see the related article “Decision Focus: Choosing a Nicotine Replacement Therapy.”
Medications that don’t contain nicotine can also help you quit smoking. They ease withdrawal symptoms and may also reduce the urge to smoke. They include:
- Bupropion (Zyban). It can be used alone, but it seems to work best when combined with nicotine replacement therapy, especially for heavy smokers. Side effects may include dry mouth and trouble sleeping.
- Varenicline (Chantix). Because it is a newer drug, experts don’t know for sure if it is safe to use it along with nicotine replacement therapy. Possible side effects include stomach upset and strange dreams. Changes in behavior, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions have been reported in a small number of cases.
These medications can be very helpful, but they are not for everyone. Your doctor can discuss the pros and cons and help you decide if one of them is right for you.
Other methods, such as hypnosis and acupuncture, are sometimes used to help people quit smoking. So far, there is no evidence that they work, but some people say they are helpful.
Changing your habits for good
Quit-smoking programs can help people understand more about why they smoke and how to quit. A quit-smoking (or tobacco cessation) program can help you:
- Make a plan to quit
- Find substitute activities that can help you avoid smoking
- Gain confidence in your ability to quit
- Get support
Some employers offer quit-smoking programs or can refer employees to such a program. Quit-smoking programs are also found at many hospitals and through local chapters of the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society.
Nicotine Anonymous is a 12-step approach to quitting tobacco. It can offer the support of others who are living smoke-free. Meetings are free and open to anyone who wants to break this addiction. For more information, call toll-free at 877-879-6422.
Many people benefit from the social support they get by attending a quit-smoking program or support group. Others prefer the flexibility of a Web- or phone-based approach. Options include:
- Freedom From Smoking, a free online smoking cessation clinic offered by the American Lung Association. It can be ideal for those who want to move through a quit-smoking program at their pace. To learn more, go to the Web site at www.ffsonline.org.
- Smokefree.gov, a government-sponsored Web site that offers a wealth of information and support for those who want to quit. Services include phone access to quit-smoking counselors and self-help guides in both English and Spanish.
- Quitlines, which offer free counseling, coaching and other help to people who want to stop smoking. Call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) to talk to a trained quit coach in your state.
Family and friends can also be an important source of encouragement during this time. Spend time with people who support your goal of living a healthier life.