Jenilee Matz has a master’s degree in public health and worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a health communications specialist. She writes for several health publications including Everyday Health, HealthDay, and Diabetic Connect.
No matter how badly you want to quit, kicking the cigarette habit is always easier said than done. The average smoker makes nine to 11 quitting attempts before giving up smoking for good. What’s more, cigarettes have become more addictive since 1999 thanks to a more efficient nicotine delivery system, making quitting harder now than ever before.
Don’t let this statistic discourage you. The good news is that you can quit smoking—46 million people have done it so far.
Still, if you’ve tried without success, attempting to quit again can be intimidating. Once you understand why quitting is so hard and learn what you can do to boost your chances of success this time around, you can quit for good.
A two-fold addiction
Quitting smoking is challenging because smokers are addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes and the behavior of smoking. A successful quit program must address both parts of the addiction.
Nicotine is the addictive drug found in tobacco products. It’s responsible for the “feel good” sensation you get when smoking. Over time, you need more cigarettes to achieve that feeling. That’s because our bodies get used to the amount of nicotine taken in. This is why you most likely smoke more cigarettes per day now than you did when you first started smoking.
Overcoming a drug addiction is not easy. While some people can go “cold turkey,” it only works four to seven percent of the time. Experts recommend a more gradual weaning process. Nicotine replacement therapy products—like gum, inhalers, lozenges, skin patches, and nasal sprays—are available over the counter and by prescription. Using these products will slowly decrease the amount of nicotine in your system, which can help minimize the unpleasant effects of withdrawal. Using nicotine replacement therapies increases your success rate of quitting by 25 percent.
The behavior of smoking is difficult to modify, too. Smoking is part of your routine, and many things trigger you to reach for a cigarette each day. Maybe you smoke every morning while you drink your coffee, on your commute to work, or at happy hour with friends. Or perhaps it’s an emotion that prompts you to light up—such as when you’re stressed, depressed, or happy.
With determination and time, new habits can be formed. Know that it takes months for a new behavior to become a habit. You may need to change what you eat for breakfast, take a different route to work, or meet up with your friends in a new location just so you’re not tempted to smoke. Remember that the first six months are the most challenging—once you get through them, it will be easier.
When combined with nicotine replacement therapy, changing behaviors and getting support will increase your chances of quitting success by even more.
Where to start
A quitting plan that works for one smoker won’t necessarily work for another. Each person has different needs, triggers, and obstacles, so a personalized quit plan works best.
Ask your doctor for help to quit smoking. He or she can recommend nicotine replacement therapy, offer tips on how to manage withdrawal symptoms, give you materials that detail behavior change techniques, and recommend local support groups. Or, you can visit smokefree.gov for helpful resources that address all aspects of quitting.
Keep in mind that setbacks are normal and are not a reason to give up. Acknowledge your slip up and keep trying to quit.