We all know that smoking is incredibly addictive. Most experts say that you should never even try cigarettes—not even one—because of how powerful nicotine is at making you need more right from the start. We wonder how people still keep trying and buying cigarettes when there are warning labels on every pack and anti-smoking campaigns found within all forms of media.
The answer is not quite as simple as it seems and there are several different factors at play. First, we will take a look at your options for quitting, and then we will examine why exactly cigarettes are such a hard habit to kick.
Options for Quitting Smoking
Most people who smoke want to quit. They know that their habit is detrimental to their health, yet they cannot seem to stop lighting up. Some people try nicotine replacement therapies, which are highly effective but also very expensive. Tobacco alternatives are less expensive and give you the nicotine you crave, the ritual you enjoy, but nothing you don’t want. These are a viable option if you are 21 or older and you are trying to quit smoking but struggling to give up the actual activity in addition to the nicotine.
Some people use reduction methods, cutting back gradually on the amount of nicotine they deliver to their bodies in order to diminish withdrawal effects. And counseling is an option that more and more people are using. Cognitive-behavioral counseling will help you kick the habit through a system of reinforcement you set up with a trained psychologist, and traditional therapies help you get to the bottom of issues that may be causing you to self-medicate with cigarettes.
Why is Smoking So Addictive?
There are three essential mechanisms at play affecting the way people get addicted to cigarettes, and the combination makes for the most powerfully addictive legal substance on the market today.
The addiction process with tobacco products starts before you ever even try your first cigarette. Big Tobacco spends billions of dollars every year on their marketing campaigns, and their research has developed the best ways to reach consumers despite the tight restrictions placed upon them by the FDA.
Tobacco companies have notoriously targeted minors in their marketing tactics because “the youth of today are the smokers of tomorrow”. The companies have zero regard for the health impact that smoking has on people, they are just looking to expand their customer base as much as possible so that they can make as much money as possible—the standard goal of almost any company.
The industry has gotten really good at reaching youth indirectly, by just integrating into their culture; and this makes the advertising even more effective. The problem is that young brains are still developing, so adding an addictive substance like nicotine to a minor’s developmental process leads to an even stronger lifetime addiction. The younger you are when you try cigarettes, the more likely you are to become addicted.
Physical Addiction to Nicotine
Nicotine triggers your brain to release dopamine, which is a feel-good hormone we need in order to function properly. Without dopamine, we may struggle to concentrate, experience depression, and even suffer from cognitive problems that look like dementia. We normally produce this hormone naturally when we do things that are pleasurable, like laughing, exercising, meditating, sleeping, eating and getting a massage.
Nicotine, however, starts to replace the receptors that would trigger dopamine release during these activities, and then your brain has fewer and fewer opportunities to produce the hormone without the nicotine trigger. You end up needing nicotine in order for your brain to understand when it is time to release dopamine, and you need it more and more often because nothing else can get the dopamine flowing quite like nicotine.
The final part of the smoking addiction that makes it nearly impossible to quit, is the fact that smoking becomes integrated into everything you do. Most people start out only occasionally smoking for the recreation of it. But as the addiction to the nicotine grows, so does the routine of smoking.
People start to crave the lighting up of a fresh cigarette, and soon it becomes part of the daily routine. It is done without a second thought.
Wake up and smoke a cigarette. Drink coffee, smoke a cigarette. Puff away the drive to work. Smoke with coworkers on breaks. Light up at the bar. Casually enjoy smoking after meals. The list goes on and on, and eventually, you are up to a pack a day. It is comforting and grounding to have that routine. To be able to know what comes next in your day. Smokers use cigarettes as a transition, as a coping tool, and as a way to combat boredom.
Smoking is addictive on every level before you even light up for the first time. If you have never tried a cigarette, don’t. It is likely to become something you struggle to give up, or you could end up being part of the statistics—those who die of a smoking-related health problem. If you are trying to quit, there are options out there, and it is easy to find resources and help. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Very few people who try to quit smoking are successful without help. The good news is that three in five people who try to quit this year succeed. Make this year your year!
Interesting related article: “Tips to stop smoking.”