Smoking damages almost every part of the body. Along with nicotine, cigarettes contain tar and carbon monoxide which are linked to an increased risk of dementia, gum disease, heart attacks, stroke, lung disease, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, erectile dysfunction, diabetes and infections- just to name a few.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps to reducing the risks of developing these conditions and achieving better health; however, doing so can be difficult. Eighty percent of smokers who attempt to quit on their own smoke again within the first month. This is because the nicotine found in tobacco products is addicting.
When the smoke from a cigarette is inhaled, nicotine is carried into the lungs and within 10 seconds reaches the brain. In response, the brain releases dopamine, a substance that induces feelings of pleasure. However, the effects of nicotine disappear within a few minutes which make people feel the need to continually smoke throughout the day.
Additionally, smoking often becomes a habit that is linked to social situations or emotions. For example, smokers may need a cigarette after a meal, when drinking alcohol, with a cup of coffee, or when they feel irritated or frustrated. These types of associations can create a powerful urge to smoke.
When attempting to stop, smokers may experience withdrawal, which can lead to a depressed mood, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hunger, and trouble sleeping. These negative feelings can further trigger intense cravings for a cigarette.
All of these factors can make it difficult for smokers to quit on their own. There are FDA approved smoking cessation treatments available that can make the process of quitting easier. They are:
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as nicotine gum and patches. They relieve nicotine withdrawal symptoms. NRT is effective and increases quit rates. The nicotine found in NRT is not addictive and does not cause cancer since it produces a lower level of nicotine in the blood than smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. Your doctor will recommend a single product or combination of products. The suggested dose is based on your smoking frequency and will be lowered typically over two to three months. However, some people may need to use products longer if there is a high risk of relapse.
- Medications that block nicotine from binding to receptors in the brain thereby reducing its addictive quality. Common side effects of these medications are nausea, insomnia, and abnormal dreams which can be avoided by dose adjustments. The dose will be increased over 1 week and then taken for 11 weeks at a stable dosage.
- Medications that help keep dopamine levels stable in the brain and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Common side effects are insomnia, agitation, dry mouth, and headache. The dose may be adjusted to decrease side effects. These types of medications should not be used if you have a seizure disorder.
Quitting smoking is a long and hard journey but the health benefits are enormous. Smokers have a life expectancy 10 years shorter than non-smokers, but quitting before age 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by 90%. Every attempt at quitting is a step in the right direction and your doctor can help develop a personalized smoking cessation plan.
To speak with a Family Medicine doctor at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center about smoking cessation, please call (718) 206-6942.
All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.