When we decide to put down the cigarettes, one of the first questions a Smoker asks is ” How do I stop smoking without fighting cravings?” This question is born of fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
The problem is not in having the symptoms themselves. The problem is all in how we approach and handle those symptoms. We want to learn how to stop smoking without the side effects.
Let’s take a look at the underlying thought processes to understand how and why this happens.
Smokers’ Brains Change
When we smoke, our brains change in response to the very high levels of nicotine delivered by cigarettes. Those brain changes cause us to become addicted to nicotine, and that addiction can make stopping smoking very difficult.
When receptors in the brain are activated, they release a brain chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel good. This pleasure response to dopamine is a big part of the nicotine addiction process.
Over time, as you continue to smoke, the number of nicotine receptors in your brain increases. Addicted smokers have billions more of these receptors than nonsmokers do. But not all smokers have such a high level of receptors.
To make stopping smoking even more difficult, the brain receptors can be conditioned to expect nicotine in certain situations long after you have stopped smoking. These would be the times that we identify as “Triggers” such as smoking while driving the car, during coffee breaks, or after sex.
For this reason, simply treating the nicotine withdrawal is an inadequate approach. The damage done to the brain and it’s subsequent thought processes also need to be treated.
Total abstinence right from the beginning is the only effective course of action and this requires reconditioning the brain’s thought processes. This will take some time and we need tools to counteract this in the meantime.
This is the reason we see many Smokers relapse, sometimes several years after their last cigarette, despite nicotine’s absence after only 48-72 hours of total abstinence.
Vaping, Smoking, and Nicotine
Vaping “helps” anxiety for the same reason that smoking is perceived as being helpful. When we ingest nicotine (whether from smoking OR vaping), the nicotine releases Dopamine and Serotonin, which are a “Feel Good” drugs.
The Dopamine relaxes us only temporarily, then we need another “Fix”…
As a 3 pack/day Smoker, I did this 60 times every day for 22 years. This caused distorted thinking (addiction) and all else became secondary to getting that “Fix” at any cost.
This yoyo effect causes us to believe that the Fix is relaxing, when in fact it causes more stress and anxiety…
Before I understood my own behavior and made a decision to get honest about it, I “relaxed” 60 times every day, trying to get the natural relaxation that Non-Smokers enjoy continually every single day.
If you vape without nicotine, there will probably be minimal side effects, but something else will begin to occur.
You will soon see the truth behind this process that I just described and you will soon become bored with it and drop vaping…. You will have no further reason to continue.
The good news is that once you stop smoking entirely, the number of nicotine receptors in your brain will eventually return to normal. As that happens, the craving response will occur less often, won’t last as long or be as intense and, in time, will fade away completely.
Benefits will begin to appear almost immediately. In only 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate slows. Twelve hours later, levels of carbon monoxide, a gas lethal to humans in high doses, will begin to return to normal levels.
Within three months, your lung function improves and your circulation starts to get better .
After a year, your risk of having a heart attack drops by half. And after five to 15 years, your stroke risk will be the same as that of a nonsmoker.
As we have just learned, we do not have a choice about whether or not we have withdrawal cravings. We are withdrawing from a very powerful drug and attempting to sidestep the cravings is impossible.
Our choice is simply how we will handle them.
We have also learned that fighting cravings sets us up for failure long after the nicotine is gone.
Our solution can only be retraining our thinking so that we can easily accept and deal with those cravings at any time, under any circumstances so that we do not get blindsided years down the road by triggers.