According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.1 billion people smoke worldwide, making smoking the world’s leading preventable cause of death. Unfortunately, knowing all of the statistics don’t make much of a difference when it comes to the will of a smoker wanting to quit. That’s not because smokers are weak, but because in addition to the powerful physical addiction to nicotine, smoking is also an emotional addiction. Smoking becomes like a companion for every occasion, a comforting friend we can lean on at any given time.
If you’re a smoker like me, chances are you started very early in life and that your environment and friends influenced you to try that first one. It took me a while to admit it, because as is the case for most people, facing our own weaknesses isn’t easy. Yet that’s nothing to blame yourself for; we’re not perfect and our past has already come and gone, so the only thing we can do is focus on the now.
Regardless of the reason you started smoking, you’ve probably continued because of the way it makes you feel: smoking can “cure” or substitute almost anything. It can be a reward when we get what we want, it can be a consolation prize when we don’t, it can fill a void we feel, from the most trivial situations, like waiting for the bus to come, to more existential states like depression or anxiety. And that’s the reason why it’s so difficult to stop: we know it’s not good for us, but it just feels so good.
I mean if it felt bad it wouldn’t be an issue to stop, am I right?
the standard behavioral approach to quit smoking doesn’t work so well because it only takes away the symptoms without treating the causes.
Although having a strong desire to quit smoking is crucial, it’s not nearly enough to be able to actually do it. We have to analyze this from two points of view: the psychological and physical dependence. From the scientific point of view: smoking, like any other drug, releases dopamine, which makes it pleasurable to use,” explains Dr. Neil Benowitz, a nicotine researcher at the University of California, San Francisco. “And when you stop smoking, you have a deficiency of dopamine release, which causes a state of dysphoria: you feel anxious or depressed”. Additionally, Dr. Benowitz noted that nicotine can be just as addictive as heroin.
On the other hand, there’s also the emotional dependence. When we try to quit we’re faced with symptoms such as depression, sadness, a sense of loss and frustration, anxiety, and anger. This is why, even when taking medications or nicotine replacements, many people relapse. Quitting smoking is hard, but not going back to it can be just as challenging if you don’t maintain some awareness around your emotions and feelings.
There are various studies on the practice of mindful meditation and how it can help people quit smoking. Recent brain scanning studies have shown that smokers have less activity in areas associated with self-control. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Early evidence suggests that exercises aimed at increasing self-control, such as mindfulness meditation, can decrease the unconscious influences that motivate a person to smoke.” Dra. Volkow is trying to understand how our ability to control our desires can be affected by the repetitive usage of drugs, thus preventing us from self-regulating and achieving our goals.
Dr. Judson Brewer, medical director of the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience clinic makes a very interesting point, relating the discourses about craving from mindfulness teachers and people who have addictions. Both understand the way that craving something can impact one’s life: mindfulness teachers talk about how stress is one factor that can generate cravings, and addicts especially understand cravings on a very personal level. In Dr. Brewer’s words, the standard behavioral approach to quit smoking doesn’t work so well because it only takes away the symptoms without treating the causes. So, in other words, just avoiding triggers can help, but if you miss them, you’ll be in trouble.
As stated before, there are many studies and mindfulness practices that can help you quit smoking; it’s just a matter of trial and error in finding which ones personally work the best for you.
Here, we’ll give you some tips from Dr. Judson Brewer’s clinical practice. In this practice, he uses the acronym RAIN:
Remember that quitting smoking is no easy task, so don’t be too harsh with yourself. Meditation is one of the various tools you can use and/or combine in your journey for a healthier life. This can include medication, nicotine replacements, or counseling (individual or in group).
Have you ever tried to quit smoking or another addiction? How did you go about it? Do you have any tips or advice to share with us? We invite you to leave your thoughts with us in the comment section below.