Mayo Clinic Presents: A smoker’s guide to quitting

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If you’re a smoker, you may be at the point where you want to stop, but need a guide for how to get from stop smoking for good.

Here are tips on how to get started on your smoke-free journey from psychiatrist Patrick Bigaouette, M.D. of Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minn.

Add up the costs of smoking

Smoking takes a toll on your body, the people around you and your wallet:

  • Smoking puts you at higher risk for many health conditions, including cancercardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also can lower your life expectancy.
  • People around you — loved ones, friends, co-workers — can be affected by secondhand smoke.
  • Do the math. A pack of cigarettes costs about $12. One pack a day times 30 is $360/month. Smoking also costs you time — time away from your work, family and activities while you take a smoke break.
  • E-cigarettes have similar physical and financial costs, although the health risks aren’t fully understood since they’re relatively new. Plus, these products aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so there’s no regulation of what’s in them.

Know when you’re ready to quit

Why is it so hard to quit? Nicotine stimulates the reward pathway in the brain, releasing dopamine, which feels good. Over time, you begin to crave the feelings you get from nicotine, and it begins to feel normal. When your body doesn’t have nicotine, it goes into withdrawal.

When you reach the point when the harmful effects outweigh what you gain from smoking and recognize nicotine’s control over your day-to-day life, you’re ready. But the decision has to be yours. It’s a commitment you’re making to yourself. You may have tried to quit before and failed, but you may have made the effort for others, not yourself.

Get from ‘here’ of smoking to ‘there’ of not smoking

Becoming smoke-free is a process. Developing a quit plan can help you prepare and follow through with your decision to quit.

Here are some elements of a successful quit plan:

  • Commit to quitting.
    Tell your family, friends, loved ones and those who will be part of your support system.
  • Choose a date.
    Be realistic and give yourself some time to get your quit plan in place.
  • Form a support system.
    You might want to find someone to quit with you, join a social media or online support group, or seek counseling to help you cope with triggers, withdrawal and emotional challenges.
  • Know your triggers.
    Maybe it’s driving in the car, doing a particular activity or when you’re stressed. Think about how you’ll manage your triggers or avoid them entirely.
  • Consider cravings.
    Brainstorm how you’ll manage cravings and address withdrawal symptoms. Have healthy snacks on hand, practice mindfulness, go for a walk or text a support person.
  • Think about helpful aids.
    These could be nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches, gum, lozenges or an inhaler, or medication assistance with bupropion or varenicline.

Work through discouragement

When people are trying to quit smoking, if they slip up, they tend to think the worst: “I’m a failure. I’ve blown it.” Those thoughts can drive anxiety, which may cause you to revert to your go-to coping technique: smoking.

But if you have a cigarette or vape, all is not lost:

  • Be kind to yourself.
    This is hard. Fewer than 1 in 10 adults successfully quit smoking each year. However, over time, 60% of those who try to quit — usually more than once — are successful.
  • Reset and restart.
    Tomorrow really is another day.
  • Review your quit plan.
    You may need to adjust it and consider what other tools you need in your toolbox.
  • Check in with your support system.

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to innovation in clinical practice, education and research, and providing compassion, expertise and answers to everyone who needs healing. Visit the Mayo Clinic News Network for additional Mayo Clinic news.