Control Nicotine Cravings and Quit Smoking
Edited by Grimm, Dougie
This guide is part of our series of articles on improving and maintaining your health and wellness.
How to Control Cravings and Overcome Nicotine Addiction
The mind is an amazing thing, and you're in control of it, if you want to be.
Modern science has proven that addiction is not just a person believing that they need something. Rather, it's a set of neurological pathways that the brain creates to get things done more efficiently. Usually this is a good thing, but when it comes to addiction, and especially the nicotine addiction smokers suffer from, it works a little differently.
In this case, these neurological pathways essentially require nicotine in order to complete their intended functions. This cripples the body, as it is dependent on the mind for instruction. It's a bit like the mind punishing the body for not giving it nicotine. This is what cravings are, and it's also why they are so hard to resist. Because our brain is literally telling us that we need a cigarette, it's extremely difficult to deny that urge and quit smoking. Scientifically speaking, the development of these pathways is known as Neuroplasticity, which is what happens when the brain forms new neural connections or networks.
In the case of nicotine, your brain will do everything it can go get you to have a cigarette, because it has built neural networks that depend on nicotine. However, because the brain's primary goal is to get things done as efficiently as possible, every time you resist the urge to have a cigarette, you've denied the craving. This forces the brain to accomplish its intended task a different way - without the nicotine. Neuroplasticity comes into play; creating and building new neural networks that are not reliant on the presence of nicotine. At the same time, the old neural networks that are not being used are broken down. Over time, this significantly lessens cravings.
When You Control the Nicotine, You Can Quit Smoking
Remembering that you are in control of your choices will help you quit smoking.
From a very early age, we learn how to change our environments to control our surroundings. Whether it's moving to another room, exiting a building through a door, or going for a walk, we're in control. This form of control is known as physical control, because we physically control it.
With nicotine cravings, we can also physically control them, and in doing so, break down the cycle of dependency that much faster. This is done by deliberately influencing the cycle of cravings. Obviously we can't control them all, such as those that come with an unexpected life event, or an emotional trigger, but we can control the majority of them. Learning this control is a great way to help manage your nicotine addiction, and keep yourself smoke free. Here's how.
- 1This means a week where you are 100% focused on quitting smoking. Not maintaining the appearance of a non-smoker, or catching up on things you have been meaning to do. Instead, take that week and allow your body to heal. This is especially important, as your brain's chemical dependency on nicotine will make this week more difficult than any other week of quitting. You need to be focused.Take a week off from work, and everything else in your life.
- 2That means no inviting friends or family over who smoke, and no letting others invite them either. Your goal is to quit. You can hang out and chat later. This is especially true of nicotine triggers involving alcohol, as drinking impairs judgment, and you'll likely end up smoking before you leave.Don't socialize with friends or family who smoke until you're over the hump.
- 3Whatever you normally do before having a cigarette should be changed. This means that if you wake up to coffee and a cigarette, you should switch to cold juice and an egg, for example. By changing the physical triggers, you're reducing your need for nicotine.Change your daily activities.
- 4Lollipops can be used to replace the hand to mouth trigger of smoking when you're doing things you can't change the routine of, such as driving, talking on the phone, or waiting for a bus or train. In cases like this, you're tricking the brain into accepting the sugar induced dopamine reward. It's a primitive but effective method to help overcome nicotine cravings.Cheat things a bit with a little sugar.
- 5This is the single most beneficial thing you can do to aid the process of quitting smoking. The reason for this is because exercise stimulates the creation and strengthening of those new neural pathways you'll be building, as the old ones relying on addiction are broken down. Scientifically speaking, it's called the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor.Exercise every day, even if it's just for five to ten minutes.
Understanding Why You Can Control Nicotine Cravings
Many people who quit smoking feel helpless against cravings, but you can overcome them.
As we've explained earlier, your brain is constantly developing new neural pathways. In fact, every time you learn how to do something you didn't know before, a new neural pathway is made.
Smoking is something none of us are born knowing how to do. Therefore, when someone first picks up a cigarette, they are learning how to smoke. The brain builds new neural pathways to support this new knowledge. However, at the same time, the brain is learning to rely on nicotine. This reinforces the newly learned pathways with nicotine addiction. As a result, when the brain later needs to perform an action, it will also seek nicotine, resulting in overwhelmingly strong cravings when no nicotine is present.
Knowing this, you can set triggers that will cause the brain to request nicotine. Since you're in control of the request, you'll already be prepared to deny it. Every time you deny your brain's request for nicotine, you're forcing it to learn how to do what it needs without smoking a cigarette to get nicotine. Each time you do this, the new nicotine free connections grow stronger, and the old nicotine dependent connections lessen, until they are completely gone.
That means you can intentionally trigger nicotine cravings, and overcome them through preparedness. Doing this three or four times a day will significantly weaken the neural nicotine dependencies your brain has built, and allow you to more quickly suppress cravings.
More importantly, knowing that you can take control of the process will strengthen and support your own efforts to overcome cravings and quit smoking.
Tips and Suggestions for Overcoming Nicotine Addiction
- It's not easy to quit smoking. Don't be afraid to call on friends for support, or invite yourself over to a non-smoking friend's home. Most will happily support you as you try to quit.
- Stay positive and remember that you can overcome this. Just like working in the gym to get fit, or dieting to lose weight, you can do it. It just takes the right approach.
- Not everything works the same way for everyone. If you try and fail, don't be afraid to try again with a different approach, or a new technique.
- Keep in mind that while not everyone understands addiction, they will usually understand helping someone in need. Focus on your need for support, rather than focusing on those who you feel should understand, but might not. Seek out positive interactions, and you'll feel better.
Article Citations and References for Nicotine Addiction
The following articles, government sites, and medical journals were used in this guide.
- American Cancer Society
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Drug Abuse (NIH)
- Healthy Canadians
- Kids Health
- National Cancer Institute
- National Health Service (NHS)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Queen Victoria Quit Org
- Smoke Free
Categories : Health & Wellness
Recent edits by: Grimm