Unless you’re a 1950s-era doctor, you probably already know that smoking is bad for you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use represents the single greatest cause of death in the United States today.
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More than 480,000 people die every year because of cigarettes. Out of that astoundingly high number, over 41,000 of these deaths are due to second-hand smoke. That’s a shocking number of people who die because of someone else’s bad habit. So many people could avoid heart or lung diseases if they made the choice to quit smoking.
Luckily, more people than ever before are choosing to stop smoking cigarettes or aren’t picking up the habit in the first place. Between 2005 and 2016, there was a 5.4 percent drop in the percentage of the U.S. population who smoke. That’s extremely good news for our collective health, as well as our health care system.
If you’re currently a smoker — no matter how frequently you light up — and want to quit this unhealthy habit, we’re here today with some tips that will help. There are lots of different options for methods and treatments that will help — you just need to pick what works for you.
If you’ve recently made the decision to quit smoking, you’re probably dealing with some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and cravings. First, know that these feelings are normal. It’s okay to struggle when you’re trying to quit. If you’re feeling lost and need something that will make you feel more relaxed and in control, think about some of these alternative therapies, which many people have used to find relief from withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Acupuncture is a popular alternative medicine that people use to help with everything from back pain to headaches to other withdrawal symptoms. It’s considered a pseudoscience in the United States; although there are many studies where practitioners have used it to get positive results for patients, the foundation of acupuncture is not based on science. It involves inserting small, hair-thin needles into certain pressure points which help with pain relief. The points that are thought to help with cigarette cravings are located around the ears.
Another popular alternative treatment that some people use to help with withdrawal symptoms is cupping, which is also thought to help detoxify the body from the lingering effects of cigarette smoke. It involves cups being placed on the skin (usually on the back), and as the cups are heated, they form a seal, then suck excess toxins to the surface where they can be easily removed. In a study done at Giza Chest Hospital in Egypt, researchers found that patients who took part in cupping sessions as well as a smoking cessation program had fewer headaches and less anxiety compared to their peers who were only enrolled in the program.
Over the Counter Options
If alternative treatments turn you off, there are several over-the-counter options available, which are typically referred to as smoking cessation aids. Most pharmacies will carry nicotine gum, nicotine patches, or even nicotine nasal spray behind the counter. These short-acting nicotine replacement therapies can help you survive intense cravings by giving you a quick dose of the nicotine that your body is craving without all the harmful carcinogens that are also found in cigarettes. In fact, using nicotine replacement therapy has been shown to help people quit smoking. People who use it have a 50 to 70 percent greater chance of staying off cigarettes than people who just quit cold turkey. It’s thought that these over-the-counter treatments are generally safe, but they do have some side effects, and their long-term use is still being studied.
One month of nicotine patches will set you back between $100 to $200 — almost as much as the standard smoker’s monthly ration of cigarettes. Plus, when you’re using the patches, you’re still putting nicotine into your body. Considering it’s been shown that nicotine can cause lasting brain damage and decreased cognitive ability when consumed at a young age, these over-the-counter options should not be used by pregnant women or children under 18.
Although you can’t buy them in drug stores in North America, electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine are considered by many to be a natural extension of these over-the-counter options. However, if you’re thinking about quitting smoking, you should use these e-cigarettes very carefully. The long-term health risks of these devices are still unclear. Many of them have been found to contain traces of heavy metals, and other toxicants that are harmful to our health. Since they’re easier to hide, relatively easy to obtain, and don’t leave as much of an unpleasant odor, they’re very appealing to young people who want to try out smoking. If you’re trying to recover from a nicotine addiction, e-cigarettes may help, but it’s important not to think of them as a long-term solution.
There are several prescription drugs that have been developed to help people stop smoking and are widely available today. Unlike nicotine gum, patches, or nasal spray, you will need a prescription for these. These prescription options are best for people who are severely addicted to nicotine and are completely dependent on it to function daily. The two most common prescription medications that are prescribed to heavy smokers to help them quit are bupropion and varenicline.
Bupropion also goes by the brand name Zyban or Wellbutrin, and it’s actually an antidepressant that targets the parts of our brain chemistry responsible for nicotine cravings. It’s taken either once or twice a day, and it’s thought to be most effective when taken for one to two weeks before you actually stop smoking. If you successfully stop smoking while on this drug, your doctor may have you continue to take it for several months before weaning you off, so they can ensure your cravings are completely gone. It does have some side effects, including constipation, seizures, and high blood pressure.
The other common prescription medication for smoking cessation is varenicline, which is available under the brand name Chantix. It does not contain nicotine. Instead, it interferes with the nicotine receptors in your brain to both reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and limit the pleasure that you feel from nicotine. If this medicine is prescribed to you, you’ll take it for a month before you smoke your last cigarette, then for at least 12 weeks afterward. The dosage can be increased or decreased, depending on your physical response. It has many of the same common side effects as bupropion.
Quitting smoking is hard, but it can be done. A good support network will definitely help ensure your success. Before you quit, enlist the help of friends and family, and ask for their encouragement. Also, don’t despair if you have to try quitting more than once!
The benefits of quitting cigarettes begins within 20 minutes of your final puff as your heart rate drops, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal, and soon you’ll find that your lung capacity has increased. Just one year after quitting, your risk for heart attacks drops dramatically. It may take work to fight your way through withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but you can do it!