Nicotine is an addictive substance found in tobacco. This addiction makes the process of quitting very prolonged and difficult. Smoking is a preventable cause of death and disease. Quitting smoking will reduce the chances of developing smoking related problems like lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke and breathing problems. The addictive property of nicotine makes quitting lead to nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, craving, depression, anxiety and weight gain.
Quitting could be:
• Unassisted: Trying to quit off and on without any help until you finally achieve abstinence.
• Cold turkey: Suddenly or abruptly completely quitting smoking with no help.
• Assisted: Involves the use of medications and nicotine replacement substances, community intervention programmes, health care provider assistance, etc.
Things to know after making the decision to quit:
Know the reasons for wanting to quit and make a list of all these reason(s).
Know what works for you: Do you need a plan? Do you want to go cold turkey or will you need help from family and/or health professionals?
Pace yourself. Have a “quit date”. Your quit date is the first day of the quitting process. It should be a date when you will not be busy or stressed or tempted to smoke e.g. when out with friends. Be realistic while setting goals. You can keep a quit diary.
Identify what triggers you to smoke e.g. having a drink or a cup of coffee, taking a break, being with friends, after a meal, talking on the phone, starting a new task etc.
Understand that there might be some challenges along the way. It’s okay to get help if you want. Health care providers are also a good source for help and support.
Tips to cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
The main struggle when quitting is due to cravings. Some ways to cope with craving are:
Using nicotine replacement products. Some examples are medications like bupropion and varenicline. Other products include nicotine patches, gum and lozenges.
Make your environment nicotine free. Remove cigarettes from your car and home. You could also ask others not to smoke around you. Use places where you are not allowed to smoke as a way to resist the urge until the craving passes.
Strengthen your mind and resolve. Tell yourself you can do it and remind yourself of the reasons you are quitting.
Try to learn to cope with triggers that you can’t remove from your life.
You could also try the 4Ds when cravings come:
Delay getting a cigarette when you get the urge to smoke. Wait for some minutes. After some time, the urge will go away.
Deep breaths. Breathe deeply, in and out repeatedly and slowly.
Do something else. Distract yourself by engaging in some form of activity to take your mind off smoking. You could call a friend, go for a walk or listen to some music.
Drink water. Take slow sips of water and leave the water in your mouth for some time.
Some withdrawal symptoms and tips to manage them:
Changes in your appetite – Eat healthy foods and include fruit or vegetables.
Dry throat, cough and constipation – Drink lots of fluids. Eat food rich in fibre.
Irritability – Distract yourself. You could exercise, take a long bath or do other things that help you relax.
Depression – Talk to a friend or family member. If the felling of depression is overwhelming or persistent, see your doctor.
Difficulty concentrating – Take regular breaks. Do one thing at a time.
Difficulty sleeping – Avoid taking foods that have caffeine like coffee and cola especially before bedtime.