Stop Smoking - Get a Fresh Start

Tobacco has a few surprises, researchers are discovering. “The risk of becoming addicted is higher following the single use of a cigarette than it is following a single use of crack cocaine,” says Jack Henningfield, Ph.D., and addiction specialist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

From the first cigarette, the brain tries to cope with the sudden rush of nicotine by growing extra receptors that the nicotine binds to. After a while, the brain needs nicotine to feel normal.

“After all those little extra nicotine receptors grow, they’re hungry for more nicotine, and without it, the brain dysfunctions,” Dr. Henningfield says.

During a quit attempt, the hungry receptor can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety and an inability to concentrate. The symptoms are worse during the first few days and greatly subside after about a month, says Dr. Henningfield.

A flood of cigarette advertising can further harass a person trying to stop smoking. “The question isn’t why it’s so hard to quit, “Dr. Henningfield says. “The wonder is that people can quit.”

The most popular method of quitting smoking is the cold turkey approach – the act of will and determination in which the smoker suddenly stops smoking.

Research shows that stopping cold turkey is the least successful means of quitting. “Within two days, two-thirds relapse,” says Dr. Henningfield. Yet despite such dismal trends, Dr. Henningfield recommends that people start with the cold turkey approach. Some people succeed. Others gain important information that they or a health care professional can use to increase the chances of success when they try to quit again.

People can help improve their odds of success by seeking behavioral counseling. Also, nicotine-replacement therapy, using either gum or skin patches, can reduce withdrawal symptoms while the smoker deals with mental addiction.

Nicotine replacement, the only medication proven effective at breaking the cigarette habit, improves “one year quit” rates to between 20 and 30 percent – up to five times greater than the rates for cold turkey.

Many ex-smokers share one trait in common: They had to try to quit many times before finally succeeding.

To increase your chance of success, Dr. Henningfield, suggest the following strategies:

– Before you attempt to quit, gather free information available from your hospital or from organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
– Pick a date, apply the information you’ve gathered and quit!
– If you lapse into smoking, quit again! Seek help if you need it.

Breaking an addiction as strong as smoking is a major challenge, but the health benefits of quitting are priceless.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, people who quit smoking:

– Reduce their excess risk of dying from heart disease by half after only one year. After 15 years, they cut their risk down to the same level as that of people who have never smoked.
– Reduce their risk of lung cancer by up to 50 percent.
– Cut in half their risk of certain types of strokes.

If you need additionally help to quit smoking, join Carson Tahoe Cardiology’s Smoking Cessation Classes or the Smoking Cessation Support Group. Call (775) 445-7650 for more information.