Smoking cessation is a major goal for many smokers, with its proven health benefits delineated through decades of research. Unfortunately, quitting smoking is commonly found to be tough to achieve, most notably due to the body’s acquired dependency on the substance nicotine.
How does nicotine addiction work and what can you expect when you first give up your cigarettes?
Read on to find out.
Smoking dependency is defined as a compulsion to inhale nicotine, a stimulant found in the tobacco plant which is in products like cigarettes and cigars. Inhaling tobacco smoke binds the nicotine within it to the brain’s nicotinic cholinergic receptors, resulting in the release of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a mood-elevating neurotransmitter that causes the pleasurable sensation reported by smokers. Repeated smoking creates a physical dependency where the body becomes accustomed to being supplied with nicotine and begins to respond with feelings of agitation if it is not provided with it at an increased rate. Eventually, the frequency with which the smoker begins to inhale cigarette smoke and the anxiety they experience when they refrain from smoking, establishes themselves as a nicotine addict.
It is worth noting that in addition to the physically addictive nature nicotine inhalation has in general, cigarette smoking addiction often also includes other determining factors. Research has uncovered a genetic predilection that increases the risk of developing a nicotine addiction. As such, certain individuals are more likely to become addicted sooner than others.
A great number of studies have also underlined the central role that social pressure plays in smoking addiction. Close to nine out of ten smokers begin smoking in adolescence, with many linking their introduction to smoking with being a part of a group. As a result, a great deal of smokers first associate smoking with social acceptance, during a period in their lives when the opinions of their peers mattered a great deal to them.
Together, these factors not only bring about the beginning of smoking addiction, but also preserve it in years to come. As individuals continue smoking, the health risks they might experience grow in likelihood and severity.
Cigarette smokers comprise 13.7% of the general adult population. Men smoke slightly more than women (15.6% vs. 12.0%, respectively), with 45 million Americans considered to be smokers.
Tobacco is a highly addictive substance, with roughly one third of individuals who smoke becoming daily users and only 7% of those who try to quit achieving smoking cessation. This is due to the difficult nicotine withdrawal process, which is described as incredibly hard to withstand. Common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal include anxiety, irritable mood, increased appetite, and insomnia.
Despite the significant effort to achieve smoking cessation, successfully quitting smoking acts as a literal lifesaver. About 8 million deaths a year are attributed to tobacco addiction, which has been shown to play a decisive role in developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, lung disorders, and other serious health issues.
Within the first hour after quitting smoking and even as early as the first 20 minutes, smoking addicts’ heart rate (the number of heart beats per minute) can decrease back to a normal pace. Accordingly, their blood pressure will also drop and return to normal, while their circulation will show signs of improvement.
With withdrawal symptoms beginning to appear, feelings of anxiety, sadness, and a difficulty concentrating start manifesting themselves three hours after one quits smoking.
12 hours after quitting smoking, your blood pressure (the amount of pressure contained within the heart when it relaxes between heart beats) decreases and returns to normal as well. The level of carbon monoxide in your blood will also decrease, thereby increasing the oxygen level your organs will receive.
Reaching the one-day mark decreases the chance of developing a heart attack.
After two days of no smoking, your senses of taste and smell begin to recover, making meals and even strolling through the park that much more stimulating and enjoyable.
Within three days of quitting, nicotine withdrawal will become more pronounced and harder to tolerate. Individuals who reach this point will likely experience more significant moodiness and irritability, headaches and cravings, as their body reacts to the drop in nicotine levels.
Congratulations! Those who manage to make it a week without smoking are nine times more likely to achieve long-term smoking cessation.
By this point, the peak physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms begin to ebb, as the benefits of quitting smoking become more apparent. Individuals who reach the two-week mark will notice that due to increased circulation and better oxygenation, they are breathing more easily and able to walk at a faster pace. Their lung functioning will also improve, increasing up to 30% during the first two weeks.
Greater energy in addition to less congestion and shortness of breath are commonly reported one month after individuals quit smoking. The growth of healthy new lung fiber also helps fight bacterial infection.
The mental health benefits of smoking cessation can significantly affect one’s quality of life. This becomes apparent at six months when individuals who have given up smoking notice they are able to manage their stress more beneficially, without becoming overwhelmed with adverse life events. At six months, many also report they are coughing much less due to their lungs and airway no longer being in a state of inflammation caused by constant irritation.
One year into your smoking cessation, you will have a much easier time breathing. You will also be half as likely to develop heart disease as you were when you smoked, a statistic that will continue to go down as you continue to avoid smoking.
Smoking cessation is certainly a worthwhile goal, but it is also one that many individuals find exceedingly hard to reach. For this reason, a variety of smoking cessation treatments have been studied, with the following options shown to safely and effectively help those who wish to stop smoking and remain cigarette-free.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (or Deep TMS) is an FDA-cleared treatment that has been proven to help achieve smoking cessation. It works by sending out electromagnetic pulses that regulate the neural activity of brain structures found to play a key role in smoking addiction. Over time, Deep TMS treatment reduces the cravings associated with smoking addiction, allowing for smoking cessation to be more easily be attained.
Deep TMS is non-invasive and does not cause any long-lasting significant side effects. It can be combined with other types of treatment and integrated into the individual’s daily routine.
In the US, Deep TMS has also been FDA-cleared to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It has also been CE-marked in Europe as a safe treatment option for a number of mental health and neurological conditions.
Nicotine replacement products have also been used to help patients avoid relying on smoking for their nicotine intake. Such products include nicotine gum, lozenges, inhalers, patches, and sprays. They help curb withdrawal symptoms and cravings by providing nicotine to the brain at a steady pace.
A number of prescription medications have been shown to help ease the severity of nicotine withdrawal. Among them is Bupropion, (with the brand name Wellbutrin), which is also prescribed for depression. A second drug, Varenicline (also known as Champix), helps alleviate smoking dependence by blocking nicotine receptors in the brain.