According to a study conducted by the University of South Florida, approximately 90% of people who previously quit return to smoking after some time. The same study says that most of these relapses take place during the first three months following cessation.
On the whole, about 75% of smoking relapses happen in the company of smokers. When you quit smoking, the cravings become less intense as time passes. However, this partly changes when you see and smell cigarette smoke nearby. All of a sudden, even when the memory of smoking has faded already, ex-smokers are easily tempted to light another stick when their senses are refreshed of how smoking cigarettes smell, taste like, and feel.
For most people especially non-smokers, cigarette smoking leaves a repulsive smell. As you take a ‘puff’ out of your first cigarette, nicotine will make you feel dizzy, short of breath. Your blood pressure rises, and your heart beats faster. Regular smoking ups your nicotine tolerance and rids you of these unpleasant effects.
Then again, as you get used to the effects of smoking, it likewise reduces your body’s overall health condition. It puts you at risk of viral and bacterial infections, and chronic illnesses in the long run. On top of that, you lose your sense of taste, your metabolism slows down, and your appetite drops. For the love of smoking and whatever it is worth, you sacrifice pleasurable eating and replace it with inhaling clouds of smoke.
So what exactly do you get from smoking? Why do people get hooked on this habit too easily, and find it very difficult to quit?
The Challenges in Quitting
The main addictive substance found in cigarettes is nicotine. According to a psychotherapist at Columbia University in NYC, there is approximately 1 milligram of nicotine per cigarette, regardless of brand and flavor. Once you inhale cigarette smoke, the nicotine content quickly reaches your brain within eight seconds.
Once it does, the psychological effects take place. Nicotine prompts the brain to release more dopamine, a chemical that is found to give humans a pleasant and relaxed mood. This is the most gratifying, yet short-lived, effect of cigarette smoking. Since the brain becomes nicotine tolerant after some time, smokers need more of the substance into their system to achieve the same pleasure.
Later on as they become addicted to cigarette smoking, smokers find it hard to quit by themselves. As a matter of fact, some research done in the past show that nicotine is more addictive than heroin. It goes without saying that more people die of smoking compared to other preventable causes, including drug overdose and murder.
At least 70% of adult smokers want to quit the habit. Among the women who are included in that data, 80% are unable to do so. Men, of course, find it equally difficult to quit the deed successfully.
What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Smoking?
When one stops smoking cigarettes, a lot of good things happen to the body. Blood pressure levels and heart rate return to normal, blood oxygen is normalized, and the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases are lessened. The senses, particularly smell and taste, are improved. Breathing becomes easier, lungs repair in a few months, and stroke less probable.
On the contrary, nicotine withdrawal begins after two hours from the last cigarette stick. The person experiences intense cravings, insomnia or drowsiness, frustration, anxiety, tension, and an increased appetite. This peaks after 72 hours, when the nicotine is completely excreted from the body. At this point, there are additional symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and cramps.
What happens to your mood and emotions once you quit smoking?
When nicotine levels go down, the brain sends signals that will make you crave for that nicotine fix again. You try very hard to distract yourself by different methods, such as eating, exercising, and more. Additionally, when stress levels rise, the body craves for more nicotine since it is used to the quick fix that the substance gives.
Everyone has a certain level of emotional quotient that gauges his or her ability to react towards different occurrences, manage anger and stress, communicate, and resolve issues. According to studies, the ability of a person to manage his or her anger and emotions during stressful events is also linked to smoking habits.
Some people use nicotine’s relaxing and mood enhancing effects to ‘escape’ from stressful occurrences, rather than facing the problem head-on. The real problem is not resolved, but the smoker feels more relaxed after smoking a cigarette stick. When the same problem arises, the cycle repeats itself. When smoking is stopped, the same problem eventually happens again, and the person involved is unable to get the usual nicotine fix. This is where extreme anger is felt, expressed, and manifested.
In most cases, when the person can resolve the problem directly, it does not make him or her feel better. This is because the brain automatically associates such occurrences to smoking a cigarette, which apparently becomes the only way to make the person feel better. A relapse most often happens at this point, if the person is not capable of directing his or her emotions on the actual issue, and calm down when it is solved.
Some studies show that smoking cessation is linked to anger bouts. The reason is quite obvious—ex-smokers crave for the dopamine increase in their bodies brought about by nicotine but are unable to do so.
Anger management programs and counseling are essential in the prevention of smoking relapse. Not only will it help ex-smokers in handling their emotions objectively despite the stress, but will also teach them to improve their emotional quotient on the whole.
These programs are cognitive behavioral therapy-oriented, with the objective to enhance participants’ stress coping and anger management skills. Smokers can combine this with nicotine replacement therapies using nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or e-cigarettes, with a gradually decreasing nicotine level.
It is never too late to quit. Anyone who experiences difficulties during smoking cessation is not alone. Withdrawal symptoms and anger bouts are common among ex-smokers who want to give up the habit to achieve healthier bodies. Once you can survive without lighting another stick, you will realize that every little step forward is worth it.