Deciding whether to quit smoking (how-to)

This is intended for people deciding or trying to quit. I'm trying to help.

If you smoke and want to quit, or know a smoking friend and feel like butting in, you might read this. If you're not interested in quitting, hate people harping on about it, or feel it's a lifestyle, or have already decided, please skip this and look at some other node.

Quitting smoking is easier said than done. Smoking feels good, it's relaxing and relieves tension. The first few drags off a fresh cigarette give a little rush. Give that up and you don't get those good feelings, you get withdrawal symptoms. That's why it's so addictive.

Smoking isn't exactly healthy, and may slowly kill some people, while others smoke all their lives and live to a ripe old age. Place your bets.

Smoking bothers some people. It doesn't bother me, and I think most people are polite and understanding. A whiff of cigarette smoke may be a pleasant memory of things past.

It can be difficult to give up all the relaxation, all the little rushes, and the avoidance of withdrawal, by dropping one small activity. There's a good movie, Dead Again *, that might help someone who's trying to decide.

Some people decide to be a non-smoker and, somehow, they do that. Thinking about wanting or trying to quit may help. One weighs it; thinks of giving self-permission, maybe.

I did not get much success from trying to quit. Lord knows I tried lots of times over a six-year period. I finally reached the point where I gave up trying, and haven't smoked cigarettes since around 1994.

Trying is OK. Cutting down can be good-- it's not the same as quitting; it may put someone back again at the crossroad of decision.

I think I had some trouble realizing a decision and not having to struggle anymore-- that point where no trying is needed because there is no struggle left. The point of no return.

There may be continuing recognition that things can go various ways, and that decisions may be returned to rather than ignored or buried.

Some say they want to quit. Others know someone whom they'd like to see quit. Some find it easier to do, some find it rather hard. You probably know people who say they're trying to quit. Quitting smoking usually takes several "tries".

One might look at "Trying to quit" as "Decided to quit, and had a setback". Then go back to the decision: "Smoker or not, what's the decision?" That may result in becoming a non-smoker, or not.

If you've tried before, you may know quitting can feel bad, and creepy, for the first week or two. You might decide to start by having only 4 or 5 a day if you were on 1 pack, or a few more if you smoked more. It causes physical withdrawal any way you do it. Cutting down first might be better than cold turkey. Take a little edge off the physical withdrawal. That might help someone stay firmly decided, and so not give up the struggle. The initial withdrawal from 1 or 2 packs a day can be overwhelming-- a struggle.

The first week, cut way down (or maybe try cold turkey; good luck). Know what you are doing, and why. The quit smoking guides talk about writing down each smoke, the time, why you did it, etc. That might help; I think it's a waste of time. You'll know how many you smoked, and you already know why you smoke.

I went through that phase many times before realizing it wasn't going to work unless I continued to return to the decision-making process and re-affirm the decision-- A smoker or not a smoker?

The good news is that most of the physical withdrawal from nicotine is over in a week or two. Then you can go for two or three days without having to smoke due to physical withdrawal effects. You may still hanker for it. You may also take some enjoyment from realizing you're very close to dealing with the monkey.

The bad news is small cravings probably recur. There are two reasons for that: Physical and mental.

The nicotine stored in the body builds up over time. So, it takes time to eliminate. A body can continue purging smaller and smaller amounts of nicotine for many weeks. Each time that happens there may be another experience of craving. Expect it. Be prepared. The cravings do go away. Trust on that, wait a day, the craving will go away. Allow for this discovery to happen.

Smoking can also be a mental/psychological/social addiction, especially when there is extra stress. Find something else to do when there is stress. Chew gum (not the nicotine gum). Find something else, a comfort less bad than smoking. Have a plan to divert the mind away from smoking. Buy a jar of nuts, mints, chocolates, jelly beans-- whatever comforts. Also it may help to temporarily avoid people who light up together.

That can be tough. There is no physical addiction, but the mind still says, "I want that." Tell the mind, "Sorry mind, I DECIDED not to smoke 'em".

Things do change. Bad physical cravings go away pretty quickly, and within 6 months to a year the mental cravings also go away.

Bad news there. Be prepared for possible challenges along the way. I know, 6 months to a year seems like a long time, but for me the mental aspect of smoking stayed for a long time after quitting. Heck, 6 months later I used to wake up, after dreaming about smoking, realizing it was so pleasurable, and feeling slightly guilty. My mind was still craving.

For me, the hardest lesson was to get past the idea I could buy a pack and only smoke a couple. I know that did not work for me. You may be different. I know people who only smoke one occasionally. I don't think any of them ever buy a pack; they sometimes join in when they are with a smoking friend; "Hey, can I have one of those?"

At this point, every friends-scene, bar-scene, social scene could be approached firmly knowing, "I'm not a smoker". I suggest telling people that. You might think they're going to watch you, to see if it's true, or they may give encouragement to you.

Now, go to places where people smoke, smell the nice aroma of their cigarettes and say, with assurance, "That smells good. I'm not smoking now." Feel confident and good about that. Take a little energy from it. Go home after a party and wonder, "Why do my clothes and my hair smell so bad? I never realized how bad that is!"

* - Credit to the movie "Dead Again" for helping me realize this. If you are trying to quit, try watching the movie. It's a good movie, with Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson, Robin Williams, Derek Jacoby, and Andy Garcia. It helped me decide.