How To Quit Smoking: Understanding Triggers And Dealing With Cravings

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 38 million Americans currently smoke cigarettes while 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

While smoking rates in the United States have been on a decline, many still struggle with abandoning the habit, as a recent study revealed. From the cold turkey method to nicotine products, every smoker may find different ways to cope and quit. But here are a few general suggestions to keep in mind and ease the process:

1. Distract yourself during the initial craving

The worst part of a nicotine craving is said to be the first 5-10 minutes.

“After that, the craving generally goes away in about 20 minutes. In most cases, if you can find a way to get through those first few minutes, you can resist the craving for good,” said Eleana Conway, a nurse practitioner from the smoking cessation program at the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts.

As soon as the craving hits, the CDC recommends stopping what you are doing and switching to a different activity. This sudden change in routine may help shake off the craving, as would chewing a stick of gum or some hard candy.

2. Understand your psychological triggers

Medications and nicotine replacements may help with physical symptoms, but the habit developed by long-time smokers can also be  psychological in nature. If a person always picked up a cigarette when stressed out, when seeking a reward, or when visiting a certain place, they may be revisited by the urge when faced with those triggers again.

Most triggers can be classified as emotional, pattern, social, or withdrawal. It is important to  identify the type of trigger you face as well as the most effective ways to deal with them. Calculating the amount of money saved from not purchasing cigarettes can also motivate those trying to quit. It remains important to remind oneself about the health hazards of smoking along with the short-term and long-term benefits of quitting.

Cessation efforts can also receive a significant boost from behavioral support which includes advice, open discussion, encouragement from family and peers etc.

"While behavioral interventions do not directly treat nicotine addiction, they do aid in reducing the habitual response of smoking, in developing nonsmoking behaviors, and in coping with the stress of quitting," stated one 2017 paper.

3. Fit group exercise into your routine

Nearly half the people who joined a running group for a 10-week program were able to successfully quit smoking, according to a study from the University of British Columbia, Canada. Ninety one percent of the participants also reported a reduction in their smoking after joining the program.

"Exercise does act a little bit like a stimulant," said lead author Carly Priebe, a postdoctoral fellow at the university. "Those feel-good endorphins that you release while working out can often replace that similar ‘feel-good’ sensation you were looking for in a cigarette."

Furthermore, the community-based aspect appeared to be helpful compared to when smokers tried to quit on their own. They would also be more likely to attend the sessions when being a part of a group.