When you first start smoking, you're not in good place to weigh up the pros and cons. Little do you know, when you splutter over that first puff, that you’re committing yourself to a long haul journey. It takes even longer to realise that you're not even the driver, and you can't just pull over to be let out. The only way to stop smoking cigarettes is to first recognise that nicotine is in the driving seat.
Now you're older and wiser, are you ready to wrench the driving wheel away, and take control yourself? That's the challenge facing you, if you seriously want to stop smoking cigarettes. Nicotine is, however, a tough nut to crack, because of the way that nicotine works in your brain. There are three main holds that nicotine has on the steering wheel, and you need to be able to prise all three off to successfully stop smoking cigarettes.
Firstly there's physical addiction. Nicotine is a chemical that your brain is familiar with, it's very similar to some of the basic chemicals that drive your brains signalling. Once you start smoking, the brain reacts to this flood of nicotine by rewiring itself - to put everything back to normal. From that point on, your brain needs nicotine to work properly; take it away and it's not able to function properly, so you're physically addicted.
Then there's a chemically based addiction - to the brains pleasure drugs. Nicotine stimulates production of dopamine, the brains reward chemical. We keep doing things that make lots of dopamine. Not only that, but smoking has compounds in it that help to stop dopamine from being naturally recycled. So when smoking makes us feel good, it also keeps us that way, though this effect becomes less as the brain gets used to nicotine.
Finally there's the psychological addiction, all those little behaviours and mannerisms, and things we do before or during having a smoke. The brain remembers all of those associations with the pleasurable arrival of nicotine. So, even when you stop smoking cigarettes, if you start doing any of those things that your brain has filed under 'nicotine', an alarm bell goes off, time to light another fag!
If you want to stop smoking cigarettes, the good news is that readily available over-the-counter products, nicotine replacement therapies, that can help with the first two grips on the wheel. Nicotine patches, gum or inhalers help you top up your nicotine levels, and so prevent withdrawal symptoms. They also give you a little boost to your chemical addiction, and satisfy your cravings.
The problems hit when you get flooded with the associations of smoking, NRT doesn’t provide outlets for behaviours you've learned to do when smoking, or prevent you from gagging for a fag when you have a coffee, for example. This means that often NRT fails to get you safely off the road and your attempt to stop smoking cigarettes ends with a crash into the barrier.
Is there another way for smokers worried about their health, and those of their loved ones, to stop living so dangerously? Well, why not jump into a different car? Tobacco smoking isn't the only nicotine game in town, and there are alternatives don't involve inhaling toxic tobacco smoke. A good example is the electronic cigarette.
If you were to switch vehicles to e-cigarettes, rather than trying, and failing, to stop smoking cigarettes, may find the alternative offers a much smoother ride.