Applied Psychology

Ways to help you quit smoking – according to science

May 14, 2020 | By Signpost
Ways to help you quit smoking – according to science

Quitting smoking provides short-term and long-term health benefits. We discuss the most effective ways to help you quit, and provide tips for dealing with withdrawal.

Key takeaways:

  • Quitting smoking benefits you in the short-term by improving vitality, as well as in the long-term by reducing the risk of cancer and organ damage.
  • According to scientific studies, the best way to quit smoking is to go cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms will be difficult, but will pass quickly.
  • If you prefer not to go cold turkey, there are alternatives you can try to gradually wean yourself off cigarettes, or various non-nicotine medications.

Often, smokers are aware that smoking is bad for their health. But there comes a point when a smoker might decide to quit, realising just how much it will improve their quality of life, psychologically and physically.

What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

“Why should I quit smoking, I don’t want to grow to be 80 anyway?” The great misconception is that smoking will only affect you later in life. In truth, smoking drains your vitality, making it more difficult to operate even at a young age.

People who quit smoking notice a number of improvements. Exercise becomes easier, in turn making it easier to stay physically fit.

Once you quit smoking, breath mints are no longer needed to conceal bad breath and the smell of cigarette smoke on your clothes will become a thing of the past.

Furthermore, smoking contributes to other health problems besides cancer. It can affect your blood pressure, increasing your risk of stroke or cardiovascular problems.

“So then what is the best way to quit smoking?”

The best choices for smokers to quit, according to science, is to go cold turkey, or rely on NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) to gradually wean themselves off cigarettes.

The latter certainly sounds more appealing, but unfortunately for smokers; scientific studies show that cold turkey is the most effective way to quit smoking.

A study funded by the British Heart Foundation divided 700 people into two groups, with one group instructed to quit smoking abruptly on a set date, while the other had to gradually cut back on smoking over two weeks.

They found that the group which went cold turkey was significantly more successful, with 49% versus 39% abstinence rate at the four-week-follow-up, and 22% versus 15% at the six-month-follow-up.

Tips for going cold turkey

Going cold turkey is intimidating, but you can make it easier by preparing yourself for the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.

Such withdrawal symptoms can feel like the flu, and will include cravings, irritability, the occasional bout of insomnia, and perhaps even some symptoms of depression.

But the withdrawal symptoms tend to fade within a few days. Quitting smoking is not the drawn-out, arduous process that stopping certain other forms of substance abuse can be.

Tips for dealing with withdrawal include:

  • Scheduling lots of exercise.
  • Having a good book or TV series to take up your attention.
  • Treating yourself to a nice warm cup of coffee, or some other substitute, at times when you would normally smoke a cigarette.

Many smokers say that cigarettes are a social crutch more than anything else. They like being able to light one up when hanging around with friends. Hence the term “smoke break”.

This may be the most difficult part of quitting cigarettes; what do you do with your hands and mouth?

  • Try chewing gum or chewing on a toothpick to keep your mouth occupied.
  • Try playing with a piece of elastic band or something similar to keep your hands occupied.
  • Keep your hands in your jacket pockets. It may feel like an awkward approach but it works.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) as an alternative to cold turkey

Cold turkey may be the method recommended by scientific studies, but if you feel you aren’t up to it, there are alternatives.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy supplies small doses of nicotine, an addictive substance in tobacco; diminishing withdrawal symptoms while allowing the subject to avoid the other dangerous chemicals present in tobacco.

It can come in the form of skin patches, losanges, chewing gum, nasal spray or an inhaler. It is recommended that you consult your healthcare provider for advice and guidance in order to obtain a preferred form of NRT.

NRT makes the physical aspects of withdrawal easier to deal with, allowing you to focus on the psychological aspects. It can especially be effective when combined with counselling.

NRT users need to stick to the period of use prescribed by their healthcare provider, otherwise the NRT itself may replace cigarettes as a new source of addiction.

What about non-nicotine medications?

There are such medications, which work by acting on chemicals and receptors in the brain. Please Discuss it with your healthcare provider if you’d like to learn more about this option.

Are there apps that can help me quit smoking?

Popular “quit smoking” apps such as MyQuit Coach, Cessation Nation and Smoke Free can provide a sense of community, and boost your feeling of achievement by gamifying the process – enabling you to track how long it’s been since your last smoke, for example.

Such apps can help, but studies such as this one from the National Center for Biotechnology Information show that they largely lack scientific basis for their methods.

Dealing with addiction

If you’re interested in helping people deal with addiction, including severe forms of substance abuse, you should consider studying a counselling course at SACAP, where you can acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to be an addictions counsellor. For more information, enquire now.

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