Time to Stop
Part 2 of 2

“I only smoke occasionally,” Alex told his mother. He knew she was a health nut, and he wanted to reassure her, “Don’t worry. I’m not addicted. I can stop any time I want to.”

If you read part 1 of this series (and even if you didn’t read it), you know it makes sense to stop smoking in order to avoid damaging your body and your life.  Maybe, like Alex, you planned on quitting after awhile. And yet, you haven’t stopped. Maybe you’ve tried but found it too difficult.  

A Hard Habit to Break

In her book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Phyllis Balch writes, “Most current smokers do not smoke because they want to (well over 50 percent say they wish they had never started), but because they are addicted.”

Why is it so hard to quit? What makes smoking so addicting?

For many people, smoking seems to provide relaxation in the midst of stress. And in today’s society, who doesn’t need a little stress relief? But remember that nicotine is actually a stimulant, not a relaxant. Initially, it causes the release of the “feel-good” chemical, dopamine, in your brain, and as a temporary result, you feel less stressed. The next time you’re uptight, you light up again. As you smoke more, it feels 

Unfortunately, your body quickly builds up tolerance to nicotine, so that it takes more and more to produce the desired effect. Once you’re hooked, you may be addicted not only to the perceived stress relief and relaxation, but also to the taste, the smell, the way a cigarette feels in your hand and in your mouth, even the culture surrounding your habit.  Some people can’t picture themselves not smoking as they go about their daily activities.

Jessica Grogan, PhD, suggests in a recent Psychology Today article that smoking produces temporary relaxation because of other habits associated with it, not because of the cigarettes. Although you’re taking a break to go smoke every hour, for example, it may be the break itself providing some stress relief. Studies have shown that you’ll relieve a lot more anxiety if you actually break the habit completely. 

Of course, an addiction also means you’ll have withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking. Who looks forward to dealing with irritability, depressed moods, headaches, concentration difficulties, anger, restlessness, anxiety, and nicotine cravings? Obviously, no one does. Maybe the dread of withdrawal has kept you from stopping.

Okay, so you admit it—you’re hooked. No one’s condemning you. Only those who’ve smoked know how addicting it really is. The question now is: How do you stop?

You Can Try… Other Substances

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) involves substituting other forms of nicotine for cigarettes and gradually tapering off. The problem with these replacements is that they all carry possible side effects and some of them can actually become just as addictive as cigarettes, according the American Cancer Society (ACS). If you try NRT, make sure you use the proper dosage; a nicotine overdose can cause serious side effects, even death. Remember, too, that NRT deals only with physical dependence, so the ACS also recommends using another program along with NRT in order to address psychological dependence. The ACS identifies five acceptable forms of NRT: the patch, chewing gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges.

Several prescription drugs are available, as well. But, because of possible side effects, some of which can be serious, you’ll need to work closely with your doctor if you decide to pursue this route.

What about electronic cigarettes? Although these recently developed devices have helped some people give up actual cigarettes, most experts agree that it’s too soon to tell if these can be safely used by everyone. These battery-powered cigarette substitutes use a liquid which is vaporized and then inhaled, mimicking the sensation of tobacco smoke. In addition to nicotine, the liquid contains other toxic chemicals, as well, and can be poisonous to children and pets.

Natural Therapies

If you don’t want to worry about side effects or toxins, you can always try more natural, non-traditional methods such as hypnosis, meditation, or acupuncture. Although there isn’t much scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of these methods, that doesn’t mean one of them couldn’t work for you. 

For example, auriculotherapy involves stimulation to specific points on the outer ear. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found it safe but no more effective than a placebo treatment. At the same time, it has been used by professional therapists in one of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and some people report finding it quite helpful.

Two other safe, but questionable, methods suggested by some practitioners are magnet therapy (placing magnets on the ear) and low-level laser therapy, also called cold laser therapy. The latter is similar to acupuncture but involves the use of lasers instead of needles.

Nutritional Therapy

Better nutrition on its own probably won’t make you stop smoking. But it can certainly contribute to the healing process as you make the effort to quit. Nutritional therapy can correct nutritional deficiencies common among smokers, rid your body of toxins, and ease withdrawal symptoms.

  • Add more fruits and vegetables, especially the yellow and orange ones like squash, pumpkin, carrots, and sweet potatoes, and the dark green ones such as spinach and kale. These will provide high levels of anti-oxidants and other nutrients which help protect against several forms of cancer, including lung cancer. Eating well will also equip your body to handle any extra stress.
  • If you want to give yourself a kick-start with your diet, suggests Balch, try a five-day juice and water fast, used successfully by many people for smoking cessation.
  • Consult with your health professional to determine your need for extra supplements, as well. For example, vitamin E supplements can protect your cells and organs from smoke damage, and extra vitamin A can help heal mucous membranes and protect the lungs, according to Balch. Certain herbs like burdock root and red clover can help clear toxins from the bloodstream, while valerian root and lobelia may decrease the anxiety experienced during withdrawal.

  • Natural health experts agree on the importance of avoiding certain foods and drinks, especially alcohol, coffee, sugar, and processed foods, which tend to increase your urge to smoke.  When you do need to satisfy a craving, try eating crunchy, healthy snacks like nuts, carrot sticks, or apple slices.

Or You Can Just Quit… Cold Turkey

Some medical resources advise against stopping abruptly. They suggest that withdrawal makes it too difficult and that those who use NRT or medications have more success. Other reliable sources encourage stopping without aids and recommend “cold turkey” as the best way to succeed. 

An article published online in the journal PLOS Medicine takes an honest look at smoking cessation, both with and without assistance. The authors note that most information published on the subject implies the necessity of NRT or medication for real success. However, even statistics from the ACS show that 90% of people who stopped smoking did so without assistance. Although most published advice to smokers gives this method a mere mention, quitting cold turkey is still the most successful approach, according to the article.

Also a proponent of this method, Dr. Joseph Mercola advises that you first get the rest of your health habits in order.  Improve your diet, start exercising, and get plenty of sleep.  When you’ve got the basic health habits under control, then go cold turkey, he says. Improving your health first will make quitting easier. 

How Much Do You Want It?

But can you really just stop? Let one man’s story provide the final evidence that you can.

Wilhelm is a tough ex-merchant marine captain who quit after 30 years of smoking. He tells it like it is. 

“You’ve got to want to quit. You have to decide that you’re done. You must come to the point where you hate everything about it. Until then, you’ll come up with excuses to smoke…My dog died, I had a tough day at work, my ex blew up the house, whatever…When I realized I was a slave to smoking, I knew I had to quit. I hated the constant smell on my clothes, the taste in my mouth, the stained fingers and teeth….I came home on a Friday night [having made the decision to quit].…After 24 hours, it was rough. It hits you like a brick. I had been sleeping to try to forget about it. I woke up and ate an entire chocolate cake—angrily! Then I passed out in a chocolate stupor. When I woke up Sunday morning, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I’m a non-smoker.’”

When you’re trying to quit, the conventional advice is to form new habits to replace the old ones you previously associated with smoking—drinking a beer with a friend, for example, or watching television. “I tried that,” says Wilhelm, “for about a week after quitting. And then I thought:This is ridiculousNo other activity or habit can make me pick up another cigarette. When you quit smoking, that’s the point:  ou’re no longer enslaved to the cigarettes.”

That was almost 10 years ago. Wilhelm hasn’t picked up another cigarette since then. 

“Here’s my advice,” says the Captain. “Give it 36 hours…maybe over a weekend. Go in your house and lock the door.  Tell your family not to disturb you. Don’t take any phone calls; don’t go to work. Sleep. And eat. That’s it. That’s what worked for me.” 

Wilhelm has known a lot of smokers, many of whom said they tried to quit, “No one I ever knew quit any other way,” he says.  “With other methods, you’re just pretending to quit. You just cut back or you quit a little while and then go back to it…You either want to quit or you don’t.” 

So, instead of asking how to stop, maybe the better question is:  How badly do you want to stop? No one’s forcing you to continue smoking.  If you want to quit, you can and you will.

You can try other methods and prolong the process, perhaps never reaching your goal, or you can take the Captain’s advice.  Go cold turkey.  Just quit.  Millions have done it.  You can, too!

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
Time to Stop

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A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich