Why is it hard to stop smoking?

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The physical dependency on nicotine and the psychological addiction to smoking are two significant reasons why quitting smoking is so difficult
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Non-smokers always ask: Why is it hard to stop smoking?

Although the raw data is staggering, many smokers seem to ignore the fact that tobacco is responsible for the death of 1 in 10 adults all over the world (around 5 million deaths every year). Smoking has been proven to strike the cardiovascular system, resulting in heart attack, respiratory tract diseases and even causes cancer. In the face of these daunting scientific facts, a multitude of smokers still can't kick the habit.

So, you ask yourself (if you're a smoker), why is it hard to stop smoking? It's because smoking is a habit—an addictive habit. The nicotine in cigarettes is addictive; however, this physical attachment is not the only reason why quitting is difficult. To give up smoking for good, one also needs to address the emotions and habits that he or she inevitably relates to smoking. In other words, physical dependency on nicotine and psychological addiction to smoking are the two things that comprise the answer to why is it hard to stop smoking.

How One Develops a Physical Addiction to Nicotine

When a person begins smoking, the physical addiction to nicotine develops very quickly. When people smoke  cigarettes, nicotine is introduced into their system. Nicotine is a drug that acts on the cellular level in the brain and nervous system. Every cell in your brain and nervous system communicates with each other by sending tiny chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) to the cell it wishes to communicate with. One of these messengers is called acetylcholine.

Nicotine mimics acetylcholine. The minute a cigarette is lighted, the smoker's nerves are fooled into thinking there is extra acetylcholine. After a brief time, the body begins to grow extra acetylcholine receptors for the false extra acetylcholine, which is really nicotine. If a smoker goes without nicotine for a period of time, the body reacts with a craving for acetylcholine (nicotine).  

This craving can be very strong. The only way to alleviate it is to light up and get the nicotine to the cells as soon as possible (which actually only takes 3-7 seconds). At this point, the smoker is physically addicted to nicotine.

The Psychological Addiction to Smoking

Psychological addiction is not as cut and dried as the physical addiction to nicotine, and it is a very important element to the answer of why is it hard to stop smoking. A smoker links the act of smoking with pleasant things, such as:

  • the pleasurable release of giving your body the nicotine it was craving

  • the pleasure of smoking with a group of friends

  • the pleasure of smoking after sex or any other types of pleasurable experience the smoker has associated smoking with

This habit is quite difficult to break because smoking has become an extension of his or her life, particularly when at the highest or lowest level emotionally. Feelings, places and moods can also turn on a smoker's need for a cigarette. To a non-smoker this may seem to be a poor excuse not to stop smoking, but even the most mundane and routine things can cause a smoker's craving for a cigarette.

Other Reasons Why Quitting Smoking is Difficult

A person who attempts to quit smoking may experience withdrawal symptoms and quickly give up on his or her efforts to stop smoking. Depression is at the very top of the list of withdrawal symptoms. The brain, lacking the chemical that produces the feeling of relaxation, becomes distressed. When you ask a smoker friend or ask yourself, why is it so hard to stop smoking, you need only read the list of other withdrawal symptoms to help you to understand what a challenge it is. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • shakes
  • chills
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • nasal drip
  • headaches
  • cough
  • dry throat
  • hunger
  • fatigue
  • constipation, gas or stomach pain
  • insomnia

Although not as bad as the above symptoms, another common complaint of people trying to quit is not knowing what to do with their hands. Holding a cigarette becomes a habit and we are all creatures of habit.  Smokers will automatically reach for a cigarette and light it without thinking—even in no-smoking areas!

There is help for those who are determined to stop smoking. Go online or contact your local American Red Cross to find out about all the programs offered.

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