How I Quit Smoking

It's amazing how bad habits go so well together.

The photos above were taken of me a few years ago during my binge drinking, chain smoking and fast food eating days.

It ain't pretty.

I started smoking when I was 19. I didn't know anyone who smoked and I just wanted to see what it was like. I stopped at a gas station on the way to the gym one day and bought a pack of Marlborough lights. I would smoke one maybe once a day on the way to the gym (how ironic). Eventually, I started dating guys who smoked and my smoking increased to over a pack a day. I kept this pace up for 8 years. Like most smokers I tried to quit a few times before I finally quit for good last year (June 2011).

One of the biggest side affects from quitting, that I was unprepared for the first few times I tried, was mild depression and increased anxiety. Without getting to technical on you (I teach a Drugs & Behavior course that goes into this topic in depth!) nicotine effects the dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine = you feeling awesome. After 8 years of my dopamine receptors being artificially stimulated every time I smoked it was a struggle to experience the normal pleasure in life without them.  After doing some research on quitting I found a few websites recommending the use of St. Johns Wort as a aide in smoking cessation. St. Johns Wort is an herbal supplement available over the counter that has been proven to assist with mild depression (5HTP is another great supplement to look into for anxiety.) The research on it's effectiveness with quitting smoking is mixed, at best. Some studies have found it does help, some have found that it doesn't help, and the American Cancer society believes it may assist but further research needs to be done.

The other difficult thing I found was having to deal with my emotions again without nicotine. When I was a smoker I'd smoke to deal with any emotion: stress, anxiety, loneliness, anger, frustration, happiness ... a cigarette was appropriate at any time! One of the best pieces of advice I came across when I was trying to quit was to view quitting as the loss of a friend. This, thing, that has been there for you and comforted you 24/7 is suddenly gone. Be prepared to mourn!

Finally, don't let yourself get caught up in future thinking. My biggest meltdowns came when I'd start dwelling on, "omg I'll never have a smoke again after a good meal" or "I'll never be able to have coffee and cigarettes" ... don't do it! When you find yourself thinking those things just take a breath and focus on the present craving. If you can get through those 5 minutes (the average length of a craving) you'll be fine. Remember, you're not quitting forever. Just today.

For further help quitting please follow these links:

American Cancer Society's Guide to Quitting Smoking

Quit Smoking Today! from Smokefree.gov

The Center for Disease Control and Preventions Guide to Quitting Smoking