Why Are You Afraid to Quit Smoking?

How to Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Failure

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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

On the surface, it doesn't seem to make any sense. Despite the fact that everyone fully understands the dangers of smoking, many continue to do so even when faced with the threat of serious illness and disability.

While logic would suggest that stopping is the only option, there are clearly many factors standing in the way of those who have tried to quit and failed. Is it simply the lack of willpower that's to blame, or is there something deeper at play?

Understanding Nicotine Dependence

If you have not been able to quit, the first thing you need to do is stop beating yourself up.

Despite frequent claims that it can take up to eight attempts before you are able to stop, new research suggests that it may, in fact, take more than 30.

There is no downplaying the fact that quitting can be tough. Cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance that quickly travels to the brain when inhaled. It creates a temporary sense of relaxation while elevating both the mood and heart rate. It is these effects smokers turn to for stress relief or as a means to unwind.

Nicotine affects the brain's reward center. It attaches to neurons in this part of the brain to intensify stimulation and pleasure. This serves to amplify nicotine's rewarding properties and increase the likelihood of dependence and addiction.

The problem is that it's only a temporary fix. As soon as your body rids itself of these chemicals, you start to crave another. And, because the half-life of the drug is so short, you need to top up regularly to sustain the mood and avoid symptoms of withdrawal.

Over time, as the body begins to adapt to the nicotine, it responds far less. As a result, you need to increase the frequency of your smoking to achieve the desired effect. By this point, there is no way you can call it a "habit." It is a full-out addiction to which you are chemically and psychologically dependent.

Setting Yourself Up for Failure

Even beyond the physical aspects of nicotine addiction, smoking has strong psychological components. It is why people reach for a cigarette when stressed. It offers immediate relief to situations they perceive to be beyond their control.

But, is this really the case? Over the long term, the opposite appears to be true. As a person's health begins to suffer, stress levels will invariably rise as stress tolerance plummets. Smoking can worsen breathing and other underlying pulmonary problems such as asthma and COPD as well as increase blood pressure.

Therefore, to stop smoking, you need to first find ways to deal with stress before embarking on a ​cessation plan. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for failure. By finding new stress-management techniques, you will be halfway to kicking the habit by removing the psychological barriers that have been standing in your way.

Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Rather than reaching for a cigarette, get up and take a walk whenever you feel stressed. The aim is to channel your stress into physical activity which can stimulate the production of endorphins and help elevate your mood. Just keep walking until the cravings pass.
  • Teach yourself stress relief techniques like deep yoga breathing in which you focus on the sensation and rate of your breathing. This and other meditative techniques can slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and alleviate even deep-seated tension.
  • Cut back on substances that either stimulate you (such as caffeine) or slow you down (like alcohol). The more you are able to manage your moods without enhancements, the better able you will be to overcome your smoking dependence.
  • Routine exercise can elevate your mood and leave you feeling stronger and better about yourself. Poor physical health does just the opposite, draining you of the energy reserves you need to cope. Exercise and a healthy diet are, without a doubt, the best forms of stress relief.
  • Finally, phone a friend. When faced with stress, it is better to find support than to rely on the solitude of cigarettes. You're going to need these friends on your journey to quit anyway. By letting loved ones in, you provide yourself a healthier outlet for emotions and will be better equipped when it's finally time to quit.

A Word From Verywell

Nicotine is no less of an addiction than any other form of addiction, and we need to stop minimizing it by calling it a "habit." By placing it in the proper context, you will be better prepared to face the challenges that lie ahead.

In the end, succeeding is about more than just willpower. Without focus and strategy, willpower can leave you stranded. The most important thing is to keep trying and to learn from each attempt. The only real failure is quitting on yourself.

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Article Sources
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  1. De Biasi M, Dani JA. Reward, addiction, withdrawal to nicotineAnnu Rev Neurosci. 2011;34:105–130. doi:10.1146/annurev-neuro-061010-113734

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