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man crushing a bunch of cigarettes with his fist

The Journey to Stop Smoking: What You Need to Know

How Long Does It Take to Quit Smoking?

Decades of research has shown that smoking is extremely harmful to overall health. Smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths each year in the U.S., making it the leading cause of preventable deaths. To avoid this, quitting smoking is always an option, but how long does it take to quit smoking?

Smoking remains difficult to quit once a person becomes addicted. The nicotine in tobacco is primarily responsible for its addictive properties, making quitting smoking cessation a challenging task.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking


Successfully quitting smoking can lead to numerous health benefits. Respiratory difficulties such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath diminish. The risk of heart disease, stroke and vascular disease is lowered. The risks for most cancers, especially lung cancer, decreases. The chances of developing related lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is considerably lowered.

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms

Since nicotine is the substance in cigarettes that makes smoking addictive, there will likely be withdrawal symptoms when quitting smoking. These include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Strategies to Quit Smoking

The experience of quitting smoking is different for each person. Some people may be able to quit cold turkey on their first try. However, for most people, quitting smoking often requires multiple attempts, a series of stops and starts, and the trial of various therapies. Depending on how long, how often, and the elements of a person's lifestyle, smoking cessation is a unique experience for each person. Here are a few traditional and alternative smoking cessation treatments available.

Medications

Several medications can be used alone or with other strategies to help curb the desire to smoke. Some medications work directly to minimize cravings for nicotine. Others attempt to address the withdrawal symptoms of smoking cessation. A few medications also wean smokers off of smoking, providing smaller and smaller doses of nicotine. These medications can be used alone in conjunction with other therapies.

Varenicline (Chantix)
Varenicline works by curbing withdrawal symptoms and blocking nicotine, making smoking less enjoyable. Of all the studies, varenicline possesses the highest success rates for smoking cessation.

Bupropion (Zyban, Wellbutrin SR)
Bupropion works with the brain's hormones to curb cravings, prevent depression and irritability from withdrawal symptoms, and helps to avoid the weight gain that may occur with smoking cessation.

Nicotine Replacement

Nicotine replacement often lengthens the quit rate time. However, it helps smokers with cravings and withdrawals by providing increasingly small doses of nicotine until nicotine is no longer necessary. Nicotine replacements come in patches, chewing gum, nasal sprays, inhalers and lozenges, and can be purchased over the counter or with a prescription.

Cystine
Cystine is a natural plant derived alternative medication that is used much like nicotine replacement medication.

Other Ways to Help Quit Smoking

Counseling or Therapy

People who wish to quit smoking can attend group therapy or counseling with a licensed therapist to assist in their smoking cessation efforts. These sessions can be done in person, online, or over the telephone to provide support and guidance.

Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness meditation, like Tai Chi and yoga, are some forms of complementary therapies that can be used to help with smoking cessation. Mindful meditation is the process of suspending judgment and being aware of inner thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness meditation is used to acknowledge and manage any feelings of anxiety, cravings, or withdrawal symptoms that may occur with smoking cessation.

Hypnotherapy
Hypnotherapy is used to help smokers manage cravings and habitual behaviors that lead to smoking.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy that can help with smoking cessation by curbing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Very fine needles are placed at specific points on the body to stimulate a response.

How Long Will Quitting Take?

This depends on the individual. A person who has smoked a pack a day for decades will have a more difficult time with smoking cessation than someone who has only been smoking for a few years. Withdrawals from nicotine are often at their worst from days three to five after stopping. Those who wish to quit should be aware of withdrawal effects such as irritability, anxiety, headaches, fatigue and an increase in appetite, and make plans to address them.

It often takes a combination of therapies, along with trial and error and stops and starts.

A 2016 study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that successful smoking cessation efforts occur after an average of 30 attempts. Although that number seems daunting, it is an encouraging thought. Smoking cessation may boil down to a series of concerted and focused efforts, which will eventually stick.

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