Although most of my academic research is on behavioural addiction, I have published quite a few papers on more traditional addictions such as alcohol addiction and nicotine addiction (see ‘Further reading’ below). In 2012, I had to watch my mother fight a losing battle with smoking-related lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She died in September 2012 aged 66 years, and had chain-smoked most of her adult life. This followed the death of my father who also died of smoking-related heart disease, aged just 54.
In my previous blog I looked at ways to reduce alcohol intake as part of the ‘Go Sober For October‘ campaign. In today’s blog I provide my advice for giving up smoking as part of the annual ‘Stoptober’ campaign. In the UK smoking accounts for approximately one in four cancer deaths, and as I said, it’s something I’ve witnessed first-hand. I’m sure most people reading this are aware of the addictive nature of nicotine. As soon as nicotine is ingested via cigarettes, it can pass from lungs to brain within ten seconds and stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. The release of dopamine into the body provides reinforcing mood modifying effects. Despite nicotine being a stimulant, many people use cigarettes for both tranquillising and euphoric effects.
Most authorities accept that nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs on the planet and that smokers can become hooked quickly. One of the reasons my own parents were never able to give up was because of the prolonged withdrawal effects they experienced whenever they went more than a few hours without smoking. This would lead to intense cravings for a cigarette. Watching both my parents’ die of smoking-related diseases is enough incentive for me to never smoke a cigarette. Hopefully, others can find the incentives they need to help them give up permanently. Here are my top ten tips to help you (or someone you know and love) stop smoking:
- (1) Develop the motivation to stop smoking: Many smokers say they would like to stop but don’t really want to. When you take stock, make sure you are clear as to why you want to give up. It may be to save money, to improve your health, to prevent yourself getting a smoking-related disease, or to protect your family from passive smoking. (It could of course be all of the above). Really wanting to give up is the best predictor of successful smoking cessation.
- (2) Get all the emotional support you can: Another good predictor of whether someone will overcome their addiction to nicotine is having a good support network. You need people around you that will support your efforts to quit. Tell as many people that you know that you are trying to quit. It could be the difference between stopping and starting again.
- (3) Avoid ‘cold turkey’: Although some people can stop through willpower alone, most people will need to reduce their nicotine intake slowly. The best way of doing this is to replace cigarettes with a safe form of nicotine such as those available from the pharmacy, or on prescription from the doctor.
- (4) Get support from a professional: Even if you are using a safe form of nicotine from your pharmacist or doctor, cutting out cigarettes completely can be hard. Getting support from a trained NHS stop smoking adviser can double your chances of stopping smoking. To find your nearest free NHS stop smoking service (in the UK call 0300 123 1044) or visit the Smokefree website.
- (5) Use non-nicotine cigarette shaped substitutes: Smoking is also a habitual behaviour where the feel of it in your hands may be as important as the nicotine it contains. The use of plastic cigarettes or e-cigarettes will help with the habitual behaviour associated with smoking but contain none of the addictive nicotine.
- (6) Use relaxation techniques: When cravings strike, use relaxation exercises to help overcome the negative feelings. At the very least take deep breaths. There are dozens of relaxation exercises online. Practice makes perfect.
- (7) Treat yourself: One of the immediate benefits of stopping smoking will be the amount of money you save. At the start of the cessation process, treat yourself to rewards with the money you save.
- (8) Focus on the positive: Giving up smoking is one of the hardest things that anyone can do. Write down lists of all the positive things that will be gained by stopping smoking. Constantly remind yourself of what the long-term advantages will be that will outweigh the short-term benefits of smoking a cigarette. In short, focus on the gains of stopping rather than what you will miss about cigarettes.
- (9) Know the triggers for your smoking: Knowing the situations in which you tend to smoke can help in overcoming the urges. Lighting up a cigarette can sometimes be the result of a classically-conditioned response (e.g. having a cigarette after every meal). These often occur unconsciously so you need to break the automatic response and de-condition the smoking. You need to replace the unhealthy activity with a more positive one and re-condition your behaviour.
- (10) Fill the void: One of the most difficult things when cigarette craving and withdrawal symptoms strike is not having an activity to fill the void. Some things (like engaging in physical activity) may help you in forgetting about the urge to smoke. Plan out alternative activities and distraction tasks to help fill the hole when the urge to smoke strikes (e.g. chew gum, eat something healthy like a carrot stick, call a friend, occupy your hands, do a word puzzle, etc.). However, avoid filling the void with other potentially addictive substances (e.g. alcohol) or activities (e.g. gambling).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). An exploratory study of gambling cross addictions. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 371-384.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). First person: Highly-addictive drug killed both of my parents. Nottingham Post, October 1, p.13.
Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J. & Wood, R.T.A. (2002). Excessive gambling and substance abuse: Is there a relationship? Journal of Substance Use, 7, 187-190.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). Gambling, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and health: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 208-223.
Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A qualitative study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 453-470.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Service quality in alcohol treatment: A research note. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, 24, 149-163.
Resnick, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Alcohol treatment: A qualitative comparison of public and private treatment centres. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 185-196.
Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.
Umeh, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Adolescent smoking: Behavioural risk factors and health beliefs. Education and Health, 19, 69-71.