No one ever said that it was easy to quit smoking. But there are a lot of options out there for people who are ready to ditch the habit, and it can be hard to know which is right for you.
“Every individual is going to have their own time and method that will work for them,” Albert A. Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Still, certain methods have been scientifically proven to work better than others. Here’s what you need to know to help you quit smoking, once and for all.
Why is it so hard to quit smoking?
Smoking seems like a simple habit, but there are actually several layers to it. Nicotine, an active drug in cigarettes, is “extremely addictive,” John Maurice, MD, a thoracic surgeon at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Each cigarette contains about 10 milligrams of nicotine and, once it’s smoked, the average person ends up receiving up to two milligrams of the drug, according to the National Institutes of Health. Once someone begins smoking regularly, it can be hard for them to stop because of the nicotine cravings alone, Maurice says.
But smoking is also a learned behavior that becomes a habit. “As a result, it’s not a process that can just be given up overnight,” Rizzo says. “Smoking becomes an automatic behavior in many ways. There is a behavioral and psychological addiction that are part of the process, too.”
What is the best way to quit?
Smoking cessation methods can generally be divided into four categories: counseling, pharmacological therapy, scaling back and cold turkey.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically lists out the following as the best ways to quit:
Getting brief help and advice from a doctor
Individual, group or telephone counseling
Treatments with more person-to-person contact and more intensity
Programs to deliver treatments to your phone
Nicotine replacement products such as a nicotine patch, gum or lozenge
Prescription non-nicotine medications
“Usually, a combination of several of these is most effective,” Rizzo says. “You want to attack all addictions, such as having counseling or support, along with going after the chemical addiction, like using nicotine replacement devices.”
Unfortunately, many people attempt to go cold turkey and fail, Maurice says. “If you look at the research, cold turkey is the least successful way to quit smoking,” he says. (That’s why the American Cancer Society specifically recommends preparing for nicotine withdrawal by gradually smoking fewer cigarettes each day — not stopping all at once.) “It is not impossible that someone can quit cold turkey, but when that’s a patient’s first thought, I usually try to direct them into more effective strategies,” Maurice says.
However, abruptly stopping does work for some — when it’s combined with other methods. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine randomly assigned about 700 people to either gradually scale back on smoking over the course of two weeks or to go cold turkey on a set date. Both groups were offered counseling support, as well as nicotine replacement therapies. After four weeks, 49 percent of the group that abruptly quit weren’t smoking compared to 39 percent of the gradual group. During a six-month follow-up, 22 percent of the abrupt group was still off of cigarettes compared to 15 percent of the gradual group.
If you want to quit smoking, Rizzo recommends making sure it’s a good time for you. If you have instability and excessive stress in your work and home life, for example, it’s less likely that you’ll be able to quit, he says. It also doesn’t hurt to talk to your doctor to see if prescription medication may be helpful for you.
Rizzo stresses that quitting may take time, and that patience and perseverance is key. “Many times people need multiple attempts before they can finally quit,” he says. “It’s not easy to quit smoking, but it’s possible.”
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