According to a study conducted by the University of South Florida, approximately 90% of people who previously quit return to smoking after some time. The same study says that most of these relapses take place during the first three months following cessation.
On the whole, about 75% of smoking relapses happen in the company of smokers. When you quit smoking, the cravings become less intense as time passes. However, this partly changes when you see and smell cigarette smoke nearby. All of a sudden, even when the memory of smoking has faded already, ex-smokers are easily tempted to light another stick when their senses are refreshed of how smoking cigarettes smell, taste like, and feel.
For most people especially non-smokers, cigarette smoking leaves a repulsive smell. As you take a ‘puff’ out of your first cigarette, nicotine will make you feel dizzy, short of breath. Your blood pressure rises, and your heart beats faster. Regular smoking ups your nicotine tolerance and rids you of these unpleasant effects.
Then again, as you get used to the effects of smoking, it likewise reduces your body’s overall health condition. It puts you at risk of viral and bacterial infections, and chronic illnesses in the long run. On top of that, you lose your sense of taste, your metabolism slows down, and your appetite drops. For the love of smoking and whatever it is worth, you sacrifice pleasurable eating and replace it with inhaling clouds of smoke.
So what exactly do you get from smoking? Why do people get hooked on this habit too easily, and find it very difficult to quit?
The Challenges in Quitting
The main addictive substance found in cigarettes is nicotine. According to a psychotherapist at Columbia University in NYC, there is approximately 1 milligram of nicotine per cigarette, regardless of brand and flavor. Once you inhale cigarette smoke, the nicotine content quickly reaches your brain within eight seconds.
Once it does, the psychological effects take place. Nicotine prompts the brain to release more dopamine, a chemical that is found to give humans a pleasant and relaxed mood. This is the most gratifying, yet short-lived, effect of cigarette smoking. Since the brain becomes nicotine tolerant after some time, smokers need more of the substance into their system to achieve the same pleasure.
Later on as they become addicted to cigarette smoking, smokers find it hard to quit by themselves. As a matter of fact, some research done in the past show that nicotine is more addictive than heroin. It goes without saying that more people die of smoking compared to other preventable causes, including drug overdose and murder.
At least 70% of adult smokers want to quit the habit. Among the women who are included in that data, 80% are unable to do so. Men, of course, find it equally difficult to quit the deed successfully.
What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Smoking?
When one stops smoking cigarettes, a lot of good things happen to the body. Blood pressure levels and heart rate return to normal, blood oxygen is normalized, and the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases are lessened. The senses, particularly smell and taste, are improved. Breathing becomes easier, lungs repair in a few months, and stroke less probable.
On the contrary, nicotine withdrawal begins after two hours from the last cigarette stick. The person experiences intense cravings, insomnia or drowsiness, frustration, anxiety, tension, and an increased appetite. This peaks after 72 hours, when the nicotine is completely excreted from the body. At this point, there are additional symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and cramps.
What happens to your mood and emotions once you quit smoking?
When nicotine levels go down, the brain sends signals that will make you crave for that nicotine fix again. You try very hard to distract yourself by different methods, such as eating, exercising, and more. Additionally, when stress levels rise, the body craves for more nicotine since it is used to the quick fix that the substance gives.
Everyone has a certain level of emotional quotient that gauges his or her ability to react towards different occurrences, manage anger and stress, communicate, and resolve issues. According to studies, the ability of a person to manage his or her anger and emotions during stressful events is also linked to smoking habits.
Some people use nicotine’s relaxing and mood enhancing effects to ‘escape’ from stressful occurrences, rather than facing the problem head-on. The real problem is not resolved, but the smoker feels more relaxed after smoking a cigarette stick. When the same problem arises, the cycle repeats itself. When smoking is stopped, the same problem eventually happens again, and the person involved is unable to get the usual nicotine fix. This is where extreme anger is felt, expressed, and manifested.
In most cases, when the person can resolve the problem directly, it does not make him or her feel better. This is because the brain automatically associates such occurrences to smoking a cigarette, which apparently becomes the only way to make the person feel better. A relapse most often happens at this point, if the person is not capable of directing his or her emotions on the actual issue, and calm down when it is solved.
Some studies show that smoking cessation is linked to anger bouts. The reason is quite obvious—ex-smokers crave for the dopamine increase in their bodies brought about by nicotine but are unable to do so.
Anger management programs and counseling are essential in the prevention of smoking relapse. Not only will it help ex-smokers in handling their emotions objectively despite the stress, but will also teach them to improve their emotional quotient on the whole.
These programs are cognitive behavioral therapy-oriented, with the objective to enhance participants’ stress coping and anger management skills. Smokers can combine this with nicotine replacement therapies using nicotine patches or nicotine gum with a gradually decreasing nicotine level.
It is never too late to quit. Anyone who experiences difficulties during smoking cessation is not alone. Withdrawal symptoms and anger bouts are common among ex-smokers who want to give up the habit to achieve healthier bodies. Once you can survive without lighting another stick, you will realize that every little step forward is worth it.
Avoid the Triggers
The best treatment is prevention. This holds true for any disease, and it applies equally as well to withdrawal symptom rage. If you know what makes you angry, you can simply avoid it and avoid the anger.
This generally involves a two-part strategy. First you have to avoid the things that tick you off normally. These might be your pet peeves or certain types of conversations that put you in an angry mood. It could also be your boss at work. You may not be able to avoid your boss, but you can certainly make an effort to have a different kind of relationship with that person. Sometimes you just have to fake it and be happy even when you don’t feel like it in order to fight the rage that comes with experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Then you have to avoid the triggers that cause your cravings. Once you start missing your cigarettes you are going to start feeling anxious, testy, and easily enraged. It won’t take much to push you over that tipping point and make you angry. To keep that from happening, you have to identify what makes your cravings appear. Is it stress? Is it going back to your old stomping grounds where you used to smoke most often?
For many people, the cravings are triggered by revisiting locations, people and memories that involved them smoking a lot in the past. If you can make an effort to steer clear of them, then you can sidestep the rage more easily. This may involve staying away from people you care about and places you love, but it may be necessary to make some changes to your life if you are going to make the big change of quitting actually last.
Deal with the Anger
You can’t always avoid the anger. There will be times where it comes out of you and you just have to deal with it. In that instance, you cannot let it control you, and you cannot try to marginalize it. Instead, focus on what is causing you that anger. Is it really a big deal and worth being angry about? Are you really angry about that trigger or is it just that you miss your cigarettes?Control Your Anger
Asking yourself these questions may help you to see how illogical and pointless your anger is. If you can dispel it, you will be able to conquer it better every time it comes up.
You can also try to think of your anger as a temporary problem. You know that emotional state will pass. So instead of venting your anger or saying something out of turn, try to keep quiet and to yourself until the feeling has passed. You are going to want a cigarette when that anger appears, to help calm you down, but you need to fight that feeling as much as you can.
One of the best ways to do that is to keep people around you who will be able to support you and who can sympathize with what you are going through. These can be family members, friends or just people who provide quit smoking help to those who need it. Make sure you have their phone numbers available on your phone and that you try to spend as much time with them as possible.
Keep in mind that these feelings of anger and irritability will be strongest within the first two weeks of withdrawal. If you can push past that time period, then you will start to have an easier time of it. Just keep telling yourself that you don’t have to fight much longer, and you will be able to achieve your goal of quitting smoking. But you are not going to be able to do that if you don’t have a plan and you don’t have a support system in place. Before you quit, make a strategy for yourself and ensure you stick to it.
Grieving and Withdrawal
The stages of grief and loss can be somewhat similar to the stages of quitting smoking. It is extremely common to become angry or even enraged, or to experience intense bursts of anger when you are quitting smoking. When you experience triggers, such as highly stressful situations or experiences in their daily lives, you may become intensely frustrated. This is not the same as typical frustration; anger felt during the quitting process is often extremely intense. This may seem totally out of character for you. It may also lead to inner conflict, and you may have difficulty understanding exactly why you are so angry.
This can be extremely difficult for the people around you. Friends, family members, and partners may find it extremely difficult to deal with you and your angry outbursts. It can be a major annoyance for those around you, but there are ways to deal with it successfully.
Generally, one of two situations occurs when a smoker who is in the quitting process experiences a frustrating moment. Either the smoker will need to resolve the conflict before he or she can relax, or enough time will have to pass that the frustration itself is allowed to dissipate. If you are quitting, you may be unable to rationalize your anger in the same ways that you normally would. You may face the exact same situations that the average person experiences, only to become intensely angry as a result. It can be difficult for smokers to recognize this shift in coping ability. It is this shift that can cause people to feel like smoking is a benefit, rather than a hindrance, to their anger.
Stress, Withdrawal, and Urine Acidity
Stress has many effects on the human body. One of the most common effects is that it tends to acidify urine. This is a normal process, and also happens in non-smokers, but the after-effects are different in people who smoke. When there is nicotine within the human body, and stressful situations occur, urine acidifiers and pulls nicotine from the body, into the bladder itself.
Because of this process, the brain suddenly realizes that it is low on nicotine. This results in an instant withdrawal situation, and nicotine cravings. This leads to even further stress, and emotional upheaval. It also adds to the effects of the withdrawal itself. This ends up causing a vicious cycle of smoking, being in withdrawal, becoming angry, and smoking again.
Solving the Cycle
While most people could get around this by resolving the conflict itself, this is more difficult in those who are experiencing nicotine withdrawal. Even if the problem that caused the stressful situation is fixed, the smoker is likely to still feel anger. It is here that only the addition of more nicotine to the body will resolve the feelings of anger.
Alternatively, the smoker can remain free of nicotine for at least 72 hours. This will completely eliminate nicotine from the body and bloodstream through urine, feces, and sweat. Instead of sitting in the body as nicotine, it is metabolized into other chemicals that, while still somewhat harmful, won’t cause nicotine withdrawal. Smoking another cigarette is actually counter-intuitive because of the cycle it induces. But the calming ability of each cigarette lasts for only a few seconds to a few minutes. 20 to 30 minutes later, the user needs to smoke again in order to stay calm. Repeating this cycle for the rest of a smoker’s life means the smoker is causing harm to themselves just to maintain the cycle itself.
Why it’s Problematic
An additional problem occurs because the smoker feels as if the smoking was justified. The brain begins to tell the smoker that smoking assisted him with calming himself, and is necessary in order for the smoker to remain calm at all. This is a false trick the brain plays within many addictions, both to cigarettes and otherwise. This is also known as an unhealthy coping skill. While it may help for the moment, it is better for the person who is quitting to learn to deal with intense emotions, sadness, depression, and/or anger without using substances to calm those feelings. It also inhibits the potential for personal growth.
As an example, consider if you were living with someone who constantly leaves flicks of toothpaste on the mirror. Staying calm, pointing it out, and sharing why you feel strongly about it will usually be enough to convince the person to be more careful when brushing their teeth. This is how relationships work; clear communication is the way to solve these issues. If you are a smoker who is in the quitting process, this very minor issue will likely seem like a much bigger deal to you than it otherwise would. You become upset because it is the 8th time this has occurred in the last month. This stress leads to nicotine being pulled out of the body, which triggers an instant withdrawal situation. You choose to have a cigarette, which leads to feeling a little bit better. This allows you to get some space from the situation, and begin to rationalize it again. You let it go, because you assume that the issue is resolved. However, the issue hasn’t been resolved at all; you’ve just distracted yourself from dealing with the actual problem by smoking.
You may even quit smoking, only to find that the same situation occurs years later, and it triggers you in the same way that it originally did. Instead of being angry but letting it go, you explode. This is because the original issue was never resolved, and thus, you are releasing years of anger at the same scenario. While you will probably feel ridiculous for your anger, it is only to be expected. You may even start to question whether or not you are having emotional difficulties, based on your reaction. If you had just dealt with the situation when it first occurred, you wouldn’t be so angry now. Think of the years of mild annoyances stacking on top of one another; eventually, the tower is going to fall over.
How Smoking Holds You Back
Smoking stops you from really digging into issues; it distracts you from dealing with your feelings or emotions, and this itself can be addictive. It’s far easier to distract from feelings than it is to deal with them on the spot, although it is much healthier to address the issues rather than distract yourself from them.
The best way to prevent this from ever occurring is to stop smoking, and begin addressing your problems one at a time. By learning these conflict resolution skills and communication styles now, you can prevent further issues from occurring in the future. In turn, this will help to ensure that you never pick up a cigarette again.