Tools to Quit Smoking

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By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC

Smoking cigarettes is something we know is unhealthy.  We know that it can put us at a higher risk of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, coronary heart diseases, COPD, and many other health risks.  We also know that it is an expensive habit and now if becoming less socially desirable to be a smoker. We have all this information about why to quit, but how to quit seems so much harder.  Some people can quit cold turkey, but in truth quitting is hard and some things takes multiple attempts to fully quit. If this is you, it is alright but let’s explore some helpful tools to help quit smoking.  

Understand Your Smoking Habits

Before you quit it is going to be helpful to get information about when and why you smoke.  Take down information of what time you are smoking, what activity you are doing, your mood, and the level of intensity of your need to smoke on a sheet of paper.  Some people write up columns on a small piece of paper and wrap it around their pack to to make it easier to record.

This information is helpful in gathering data on your smoking habits.  With that data you can create more plans on how to avoid smoking. You might have routines but you are also going to have triggers.  Triggers are anything that might make you want to smoke. It might be when you are angry, or when you take breaks, or maybe when you drink alcohol.  Knowing your triggers are very important so you can build a plan to address them.

Building Plans and Understanding Coping Skills

Some of your smoking habits might actually be really useful coping skills.  For example, let’s say you got in a fight with a close friend. The two of you got in a heated argument.  You are frustrated so you let your friend know that you need a smoker break. This is helpful because you get out of the stressful situation, allow yourself to cool off in another location, and can come back to the conversation less heated.  It is important to understand how smoking is a coping skill for you to find new coping skills. If you quit smoking without these plans, then you have a vacant hole on how to manage your day to day stress. In this example, you might want to think about how you would get out of such an argument.  Maybe excuse yourself and go for a walk might be helpful.

This is why it is important to gather the information about your smoking habits.  If you have a tendency smoke because you are lonely, anxious, sad, angry or whatever emotion is going on, then you may want to explore new ways to manage those emotions in a way that doesn’t use cigarettes.  If you are having difficulty building new coping skills or identifying them, therapy can be very helpful.

Avoid, Alter, Substitute

Once you know what your triggers are you can build plans in how to build strategies.  The simplest way to build a plan is to find how to Avoid, Alter, or Substitute strategies the trigger.   

Let’s take coffee and a common trigger.  The Avoid strategy would be to literally avoid drinking coffee.  This may be less ideal for many people. Typically it is recommended to avoid drinking if you pair alcohol and cigarettes or it might be avoiding a place that you usually smoke when on breaks.  

If you choose to continue drinking coffee then you can Alter the situation.  Let’s say you usually drink coffee and have a cigarette while sitting at the kitchen table.  You could Alter the situation so you would drink it on the car ride or in another room. You are changing the situation slightly to break the routine.  

The last option is to Substitute the cigarette with something.  So when you have your coffee, have pen in your hand or a toothpick in your mouth.  Many people use gum as a substitute for cigarettes or have a stress ball to play with.  It is helpful to look at most of your triggers a build a plan to address them. Don’t just have one plan, have a couple.  You may need to try multiple strategies to figure out what works best for you.

Cutting down

When you are getting ready to quit it can be helpful to gradually cut down of cigarettes.  It may help to cut down 25% of your cigarettes. So if you smoke a pack daily (20 cigarettes) then limit yourself to 15 cigarettes.  It may help to remove those cigarettes from the pack to limit yourself.

This can help in multiple ways.  First cutting down will help tamper down the nicotine in your system so withdrawal symptoms will be less.  Second, you can try out some of the strategies you thought up and see how they play up. You can edit some of the strategies that need more work and see which ones are a good match for you.  Third, you are making small steps for your goals and this can help keep you motivated for your actual quit day.

Ready to Quit

When you are ready to quit set a firm date.  Let others know to help keep you accountable.  Some people have had parties to celebrate their quitting.  Also let people know that you might need support through the process too.  If you are having a rough day you can reach out to some of these people.

A vital part of quitting smoking is to throw away your cigarettes.  This may seem obvious put many people have a hard time with this.  I the cigarettes are available they will be like a bowl of potato chips.  You may not be hungry but your hand will dip into those chips without really thinking about it.  How you get rid of the cigarettes is up to you. You can throw or break them them out as a symbolic gesture, give them to a friend, or just time it so your last one is the night before your quit day.  Again, get rid of all cigarettes!

Also throw and hide away reminders of smoking.  This may include an ash trays. Some people choose to clean their houses or clothing to get rid of the smoke smell which can also encourage them not to go back to smoking.  

Monitor Improvements

Pay attention to your reasons for quitting smoking and see if you can monitor them in some way.  It is important to remember those goals and to keep track of progress. After a week or so take in account what might have changes.  Maybe you are feeling cravings less intensely. Maybe your sense of smell is coming back. Or your not as winded when you run. See some of the benefits of quitting smoking.  

There are helpful apps like QuitNow that can let you know the health benefits you are having on your body by the number of days you have been quit.  

Some people have even put the money they spent on cigarettes in a jar to see how much money they have saved from not smoking.  

Medication and Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Medications like Bupropion (also known as Wellbutrin) or Chantix have been found to help people quit smoking.  If you are interested in such medication, talk to your doctor about it. All medications have a chance of side effects, so understand what they are and what you are willing to try.  

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) such a using Nicotine Gum, patches, or lozenges have also been helpful for people.  Nicotine is highly addicting and using NRT can help people ween off cigarettes. It should be noted that it is helpful to ween off the NRT as well or else people are something susceptible to going back to smoking.  

Remember quitting smoking can be hard.  It may take a couple of times and you might get discouraged.  Having reminders of your reasons to quit around you can help. If you need more help or guidance seek it out.  Every state has a free quit line that offers various services and/or smoking cessation counseling. The important part is you are trying to reach your goals.