Coping with emotions, boredom, and finding ways to manage life’s simple day-to-day stressors without puffing on a cigarette or placing chewing tobacco in one’s cheek is often thought of as an unsurmountable task by many who are addicted to nicotine. Even the thought of having to drive in traffic, or make a phone call to the cable company without smoking a cigarette can be daunting for nicotine addicts. This is because nicotine has the honor of belonging to small and diverse group of substances that are known to be the most highly addictive chemicals to humankind.
Unfortunately, those who wish to quit smoking cigarettes or cigars, chewing tobacco, or using dip, find themselves attempting to quit over and over again, with little to no success. Many times, the person begins to view him/herself as a failure, lacking willpower and self-control. This is far from the truth. The reality is that nicotine has hijacked their brain, replacing normal human activities from which one can derive pleasure and reduce one’s stress with this natural, yet dangerous chemical.
Even with the plethora of public and private programs that have been developed to help people stop smoking, many are still unsuccessful, or do not even try. Most who smoke have a desire to stop, but the fear of being without this readily available and mindless coping skill prevents them from picking up the phone and reaching out to a program that can truly help them stop. Some have even been arrested on airplanes, murdered in prison, and have missed important meetings because of smoking.
Others have had his/her significant other literally walk out the door because they couldn’t tolerate being around cigarette smoke or the spit from chewing tobacco any longer. Even the government program of heavily taxing tobacco products to cut down on the use has not stopped many from lining up at the convenience store daily to buy cigarettes. Some of the folks in the line are the same people who do not seek necessary medical care because of the cost of the copayment, yet spend upwards of $14.00 a pack for cigarettes in New York City.
Finally, the extreme health risks of using tobacco go ignored. There are those who have already been diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and are still unable or unwilling to seek help to stop this grave addiction.
Because the addiction to nicotine arises from the brain’s response in rewarding the behavior, in part through dopamine, the signs, symptoms, and consequences of this addiction closely mirror that of other addictions, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. The most significant hallmark of each is the continued use or exhibition of the behavior despite negative consequences. Some of the negative consequences of using tobacco products as a means to introduce tobacco into the body have been discussed above. It goes without saying that nicotine, and the way it is introduced into the body, is an extremely dangerous substance, and its use carries many significant consequences.
Because nicotine is a legal drug and smoking is socially acceptable in some settings, its use is sometimes misperceived as being “not that bad”. On the contrary, tobacco is one of the most damaging addictive substances that exists. But, like alcohol, since its legal, there has been less of a social push to end its use. In addition, smoking doesn’t overtly cause the same types of problems that alcohol and crack do, such as driving accidents and other violence. But, the same as alcohol and crack use, those who smoke miss more days of work because of illnesses that are caused or made worse by tobacco use. In the end, the chronic and acute illnesses that are directly caused by rampant tobacco addiction weigh in around 300 billion per year in the U.S. vs. alcohol, which costs about $223.5 billion per year, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Illicit drug use costs upwards of $220 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Taken together, the nearly $20 trillion national deficit could be wiped out in a couple of decades, with no other budgetary changes, by simply stopping the excessive use of alcohol, and all use of tobacco products and drugs of abuse in the U.S.
However, since drug addiction, alcoholism, and tobacco addiction are diseases, they oftentimes require medical intervention for remission to occur. From anti-smoking campaigns, self-help groups, and nicotine replacement therapy, along with the sometimes-necessary inpatient or residential drug rehab required to break the cycle of tobacco use, there is a way to stop using tobacco when one has insight and support.
Stopping tobacco use is difficult initially because of the extreme addictive nature of nicotine, and the very uncomfortable withdrawal and intense cravings that develop upon its cessation. But, even after the initial withdrawal, less intense cravings can continue for months to years. Also, mood swings, agitation, anger, irritability, and various sleep disorders can persist. During this period, it is important to being to learn how to deal with stress, excitement, and other normal life situations without lighting up a cigarette or using chewing tobacco or dip.
Learning how to cope with the world without using nicotine as a crutch, to control your mood, and to induce euphoria is no easy task. In fact, many who smoke do not have a good understanding of how to self-regulate their mood without using nicotine, and sometimes nicotine isn’t even enough, and it’s combined with caffeine or other mood-altering substances. Since handling normal life circumstances can be difficult, to say the least, for a person who has recently stopped using tobacco, professional assistance is commonly recommended.