Everyone knows the dangerous and often deadly effects that smoking can have - but quitting smoking is one the of the most difficult steps out there in the process of getting Healthy By Choice. Just ask anyone who’s tried. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 90% of the people who try to quit smoking relapse or return to smoking within 1 year - and most relapse within a week.
Many smokers blame themselves, thinking they’re too weak to beat the smoking habit. Scientific research, however, has proven that the challenge has little to do with will-power. The fact is, that cigarette addiction is a physiological condition - one that many health care workers say is second only to heroin addiction.
To break that physical dependency, most people need help. Wanting to quit is often not enough. A deeper understanding of the dynamics at play shed light on why that is.
Recent research conducted by the NIDA reveals that nicotine activates the part of the brain that regulates feelings of pleasure, the so-called “reward pathways.” The neurotransmitter dopamine - what the NIDA calls a “key brain chemical involved in mediating the desire to consume drugs” - and nicotine increases the levels of dopamine. Smoking a cigarette produces a quick, strong distribution of nicotine to the brain; drug levels peak within 10 seconds of inhalation. These pleasurable effects of nicotine, however, fade within a few minutes, causing cravings in the smoker to smoke another cigarette shortly thereafter in order to maintain the drug's pleasurable effects and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
What many smokers DON’T realize is that the cigarette is what NIDA calls “a very efficient and highly engineered drug-delivery system. By inhaling, the smoker can get nicotine to the brain very rapidly with every puff. A typical smoker will take 10 puffs on a cigarette over a period of 5 minutes that the cigarette is lit. Thus, a person who smokes about 1-1/2 packs (30 cigarettes) daily, gets 300 "hits" of nicotine to the brain each day. These factors contribute considerably to nicotine's highly addictive nature.”
Recent research (and lawsuits) have also uncovered the fact that nicotine isn’t necessarily the only psychoactive ingredient in tobacco. Using advanced neuroimaging technology, scientists have determined the dramatic effect cigarette smoking ohas on the brain - including “a marked decrease in the levels of monoamineoxidase (MAO), an important enzyme that is responsible for breaking down dopamine.”
Apparently, nicotine acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. Immediately after inhaling nicotine, the smoker experiences a "kick" caused, in part, by what NIDA calls “the drug's stimulation of the adrenal glands and resulting discharge of epinephrine (adrenaline).” This rush of adrenaline, according to NIDA, “stimulates the body and causes a sudden release of glucose as well as an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Nicotine also suppresses insulin output from the pancreas, which means that smokers are always slightly hyperglycemic." Nicotine can also, according to NIDA, "exert a sedative effect, depending on the level of the smoker's nervous system arousal and the dose of nicotine taken.”
Smokers undergo a number of additional neurological changes that contribute to the state of being “addicted” to cigarettes.
Repeated exposure to nicotine - or smoking for a while - results in the development of tolerance, the condition in which higher doses of a drug are required to produce the same initial stimulation. Since nicotine is metabolized fairly rapidly and is gone from the smoker’s body within a few hours, many smokers lose their tolerance overnight - which is why many people say that the first cigarettes of the day are the strongest and/or the "best." As the day progresses, however, that condition of acute tolerance develops, which is why later cigarettes have less effect and many people smoke more and more cigarettes over the course of the day.
Most cigarettes in the U.S. market today contain 10 milligrams (mg) or more of nicotine. Through inhaling, the average smoker takes in 1 to 2 mg nicotine per cigarette. Nicotine is addictive.
Most smokers smoke regularly, in other words, because they are addicted to nicotine. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug-seeking: most smokers know that cigarettes are harmful and want to quit; nearly 35 million smokers make a serious attempt to quit each year. Unfortunately, less than 7% of those who try to quit succeed in staying away from cigarettes for over a year, and most relapse within a few days of attempting to quit.
Here are some scary facts: an estimated 46.5 million adults in the United States smoke cigarettes even though they know that this one act will result in death or disability for half of all regular users. Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year, or one out of every five deaths. Over 5 million people currently younger than 18 will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease, and smoking will result in more than $75 billion in medical expenditures and another $80 billion in indirect costs.
Smoking-related illnesses also cost the nation more than $150 billion each year.
Withdrawal symptoms can last a month or longer, which is why many people give up and return to smoking even though they actively want to quit. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms (which tend to peak within the first few days and tend to subside within a few weeks) include irritability, craving, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite. For many people, these symptoms are too much to bear - and in pursuit of less irritability and, in general, “feeling better,” these people understandably give up and reach for another cigarette.
One important withdrawal symptom is “craving,” and high levels of craving can last for 6 months or longer. According to many scientists, this constant urge for nicotine is a major obstacle to quitting for good. While this symptom is very much related to the pharmacological effects of nicotine addiction, there are also habits, associations and behavior that contribute to the challenge: “For some people,” NIDA explains, “the feel, smell, and sight of a cigarette and the ritual of obtaining, handling, lighting, and smoking the cigarette are all associated with the pleasurable effects of smoking and can make withdrawal or craving worse. While nicotine gum and patches may alleviate the pharmacological aspects of withdrawal, cravings often persist.”
Usually people make 2 or 3 tries, or more, before finally being able to quit. Fortunately, today there’s more help than ever. In fact, there are a number of therapeutic techniques that can be of great help to people in overcoming these emotional and behavioral withdrawal symptoms: meditation, relaxation therapy, hypnosis, therapeutic massage and acupuncture have all been reported to be extremely effective in helping the individual beat the difficult stages of quitting. There are also very powerful, all-natural homeopathic remedies that lessen the impact of withdrawal and help smokers quit for good.
Nobody needs to tell smokers why it’s so important to quit. Most people know that smoking accounts for one-third of all cancer and that lung cancer - the #1 killer - has been linked to cigarette smoking about 90% of the time. Other lung diseases caused by smoking include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, ureter, and bladder. In addition, the overall death rate from cancer is twice as high among smokers as among nonsmokers, with heavy smokers having rates that are four times greater than those of nonsmokers.
Tobacco, in fact, kills more than 430,000 U.S. citizens each year-more than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, homicide, suicide, car accidents, fire, and AIDS combined.
For women, the negative effects of smoking can be even worse; in addition to all the reasons that apply to men and women alike, consider the following: Not only can smoking cause a variety of cancers in both men and women; it puts women at higher risk of cervical cancer, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). A Danish study published in the Journal of the National Cancer found that premenopausal women who smoke are six times likelier to develop rectal cancer than those who don't. Also, according to the ACOG, women who smoke experience more severe premenstrual symptoms; they also experience a 50% increase in cramps lasting two or more days. Smoking also damages fertility: smokers have a greater risk of not ovulating, and there are greater chances that a fertilized egg won’t be able to successfully implant in the uterus.
Furthermore, smoking is even more dangerous for a fetus than for the mother who smokes: nicotine crossing the placenta speeds up the baby’s heart rate to dangerous levels.
In addition, according to the ACOG, smoking increases a pregnant woman's risk of miscarrying by 39% and heightens the chances of other serious complications, including placental abruption (when the placenta separates from the uterine wall), placenta previa (when the placenta covers the opening of the uterus) and stillbirth. Many studies have also indicated that maternal smoking is the most preventable cause of low birth weight. A 1995 report in the Journal of Pediatrics determined that infants exposed to tobacco smoke are almost three times likelier to die from sudden infant death syndrome.
In addition, smokers develop wrinkles earlier than nonsmokers - but it also ages women in another way: it speeds up menopause by one to two years.
Quitting smoking can have an immediate impact on restoring the ex-smoker’s health: on average, for example, a 35-year-old man who quits smoking will increase his lifespan by at least 5 years.
Quitting will also lower your chance of having a heart attack or stroke; if you’re pregnant, quitting smoking will increase your likelihood of having a healthy baby; once you quit, the people you work around and live with, especially your children, will be healthier; and the time and money you save can be spent on things that make you healthy, not sick.
So get healthy today. Get healthy...the natural way. Stop smoking. EZ-Quit® can help.