Health & Wellness

Breaking Addictions: World No Tobacco Day

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Breaking Addictions: World No Tobacco Day

The 31st May is World No Tobacco Day. By now, we are all well informed about the dangers associated with smoking. Mandatory education programmes, packet warnings, and advertising bans have all had an impact on the number of smokers in the UK (which has been in steady decline for many years now).

However, many millions of people still struggle with the compulsion to light up a cigarette. It’s estimated that 25,000 people die every year in the UK from smoking-related diseases. Many of these people have been trying to quit for years – but addiction is a powerful thing, and smoking is by no means an easy habit to break.

This year’s World No Tobacco Day will be focusing particularly on lung health, which is a hugely important facet to the smoking problem. However, for the moment we’d like to take a step back from the physical effects of smoking, and take a look at the way smoking interacts with the brain.

Breaking Addictions: World No Tobacco Day 

How do people get addicted to smoking?

The addictive component within tobacco is nicotine. Nicotine is a potent chemical but, oddly, when isolated it has far fewer physical effects than tobacco does in general. 

It is the tar, irritation, and clogging effects of tobacco smoke which are largely responsible for the lung cancers and cardiovascular diseases for which smoking is known. 

However, this does not mean that nicotine is harmless. Far from it. Without the nicotine, it’s doubtful that people would continue to spark up cigarettes despite knowing the horrendous health hazards they’re exposing themselves to. It’s the nicotine which keeps people going back for another packet of smokes.

Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is part of the human brain’s ‘reward’ mechanism. 

Essentially, dopamine tells us when we’ve done well. It gives us a happy little boost. This boost not only feels nice, it also reinforces the behaviour at a subconscious level. It’s a very important process, and one which is absolutely vital for learning. 

For example, being praised (or even simply succeeding at something) also triggers the release of dopamine, which helps us to act in praiseworthy or successful ways in the future.

However, certain chemicals (like nicotine) can hijack the dopamine reward system in the brain. This trains the brain to crave these chemicals, and thus an addiction is born.

How addictive is nicotine?

A nicotine habit can take a long time to develop. But, once established, it’s very hard to shake. Once the brain has come to rely on nicotine, it protests heavily at its chemical crutch being taken away. The effects of nicotine withdrawal may include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Increased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Intense cravings for cigarettes
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Low mood
  • Sweating

Nicotine patches and other nicotine supplements can help to combat these symptoms. However, many people also find that quitting smoking is additionally difficult because of how much the action of smoking has become a part of their lives. If you are used to having a cigarette at a certain time or within a certain situation, it can feel very strange (and even uncomfortable) to be without a cigarette in your fingers in such contexts.

Getting help for quitting smoking

The above all sounds pretty bleak, we know. But it’s really not as bad as all that. The worst of nicotine withdrawal tends to pass after about three days. If you can stick it out for that long, you’ll be over the worst. Then it’s just a case of keeping the habit down.

Breaking the habit of smoking tends to work differently for different people. Many find that nicotine replacements like patches and nicotine gum are enough to get them through the worst of the cravings. Other people find that more psychological therapies help them the most. Recently, some apps have really helped people to monitor their no-tobacco journey and encouraged them to stay on track. Examples of common stop-smoking aids include:

· Nicotine vapes. While there has been some controversy around exactly how safe vapes are, many people have found them useful in transferring their smoking habits to something less harmful.

· Medications. Some medicines have been proven effective in reducing nicotine cravings and counterbalancing some of the negative mood issues caused by nicotine withdrawal. Ask your GP for more information on medicines to help you quit smoking.

· Apps. The NHS has a therapeutic app for those who wish to give up smoking. It’s called ‘NHS Smokefree’, and it works by providing practical support, encouragement, tips, motivation, and tracking over a four week programme.

· Group support. While it’s not for everyone, many people find that it’s easier to quit with the support of a group of others going through the same thing. Stop-smoking groups challenge, encourage, congratulate, and motivate one another.

· Professional support. Look into your local NHS stop smoking service. Expert advice and support can be highly effective.

And then, of course, there’s counselling.

Counselling for stopping smoking

There are many forms of counselling for addiction. The right one for you may take a while to find, so don’t be afraid to shop around. Therapies counsellors may offer include:

· Behavioural therapy. Behavioural therapies work with the connections between the way you think and the way you behave. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a commonly used form of behavioural therapy which encourages you to notice (and therefore to have power over) your thought processes.

· Talking therapy. Talking therapies are often steered by the client. Talking therapies can help you to express your frustrations, emotions, and struggles around the issue. You may be surprised at how much you uncover about yourself and your attitudes towards smoking.

Whichever variety of therapy you go for, an accredited counsellor will provide you with a non-judgmental and supportive space. The expert advice and help of the right counsellor really can be a huge help for anyone who is trying to quit smoking. Visit our website for more on finding the right accredited counsellor for you.

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  1. Estupendo post! Gracias por tu visita! Feliz noche! 💜💜💜