Understand Nicotine to Quit Smoking

Understand Nicotine to Quit Smoking

Nicotine is an addictive substance—a drug, in other words. If you are a smoker trying to quit, you know how challenging that task is. Many people try for years, without success, to fully give up the habit. The difficulty lies in the nature of nicotine and the act of smoking. Nicotine affects your brain, making you physically dependent on it, while the habit itself becomes a psychological dependence. When you understand nicotine and smoking, you have a better chance of quitting for good.

Why Nicotine Is Addictive

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known. It is found in the leaves of the tobacco plant, the main component of cigarettes. What makes nicotine, like other drugs, addictive is the action it takes on the brain when you smoke. Nicotine activates what we call reward pathways: our brains contain these natural chemical pathways that reward us with a good sensation when we do something pleasurable. When you get a hug from a loved one, or eat your favorite dessert, this pathway is activated.

Drugs like nicotine activate the pathway to the extreme, causing a flood of the pleasure chemical dopamine. After repeated smoking over the long-term, these pleasure pathways become altered. You are no longer able to feel normal levels of pleasure without nicotine to activate the release of dopamine. The result is that you feel irritable, anxious, depressed, foggy, sleepy and hungry when you can’t smoke. You crave a cigarette to return to feeling normal.

Addicted to the Act of Smoking

Being addicted to cigarettes, though, is not all about nicotine. When you have been smoking for years, you also develop a psychological dependence on the habit of smoking. Think about what your triggers are for smoking. You might feel the urge to reach for a cigarette when you’re on a break at work, or when you are out drinking with friends. Maybe your first cup of coffee in the morning goes with a smoke. Smoking is a habit you engage in when you are relaxing, when you’re stressed or when you are socializing.

All of your prime smoking times are positive occasions. You probably consider cigarettes to be tools for relaxation, or even like an old friend you can rely on. Now is the time to realize that your relationship to cigarettes is an abusive one. You get short-term superficial benefits from them, but over the long-term, they are killing you. It is not only the nicotine that keeps you coming back for more, but also your psychological need to smoke at certain times of the day and in certain situations.

Cessation Tools

The task of quitting smoking is daunting, but it is possible. The best strategy is to speak to your doctor about developing a cessation program. There are tools that can help you kick the habit and avoid relapsing. A combination of prescription medication and over-the-counter gum or patches can really help. A strong support system is also important. If you surround yourself with people who do not smoke and who want to see you stop, your odds are better.

As you try to quit smoking, realize that it is a process. You cannot simply decide to quit one day and call it done. You have to work through it and know that years from now you might still feel cravings for cigarettes. With diligence on your part, cessation tools and a supportive group of friends and family, you can do it.

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