Kick The Habit, Not Yourself

When it comes to quitting, smoking definitely puts up a fight. No matter how much pressure you get from your doctor, family members, or friends, it’s a decision you have to make for yourself.

There may be a lot of guilt and disappointment involved in kicking the habit, especially after unsuccessful attempts. Understanding how this addiction works in your body may help you see quitting in a different light.

Positive and negative reinforcement

It is commonly known that nicotine is what keeps you coming back for another smoke. This is because the neurons in your brain have “nicotinic” receptors which allow the addictive chemical to attach and influence the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter.

When you smoke, dopamine is released giving you a sense of pleasure. The more you smoke, the more it becomes synonymous with the good feeling it provides. As a double whammy, negative reinforcement occurs when you try to quit. The experience of withdrawal symptoms makes you crave the one thing that will make it better—another cigarette.

It’s not just nicotine

Nicotine itself isn’t the only factor in your addiction. The actual experience of smoking reinforces it—e.g. the recurring hand-to-mouth movement, the tactile feeling of smoke in your lungs, the pairing of smoking with “cues” such as coffee or social interactions.

In fact, surveys show when nicotine is given in the absence of such cues, it is less enticing. This means that the more you pair cigarettes with coffee or social interactions, the more you are reinforcing the habit.

Mental health and smoking

There have been many studies and discussions involving mental health and smoking addiction. For example, there appears to be a link between smoking and certain types of anxiety disorders and depression.

It may seem that you aren’t exactly set up for success when trying to quit. Yet this information is not meant to be discouraging. In fact, a better understanding of the mechanism might give you a more objective outlook.

You’re not the only one to be “hacked” by an addiction. Though it is difficult to overcome, this doesn’t mean you are incapable and somehow undeserving of a healthier lifestyle. You just have to find motivation and a method that works best for you.

The internet is full of resources to help you stop smoking—e.g. reducing cigarettes gradually vs. going cold turkey, phone apps, and nicotine replacement therapy. Though there is only anecdotal evidence to support the effectiveness of natural treatments such as acupuncture and hypnotherapy, these may also work for you.

The role of compassion

What other resources may not discuss, is the role self-compassion plays in your addiction. By operating from a place of self-love, your reason for quitting might take a different shape. Have a look at our positive self-talk to help you find more self-compassion, and consider the following:

  • You deserve to feel mentally well. Your addiction happens not just on chemical level, but also a psychological one. Improve your mental state with soothing and positive activities such as journaling, meditation, and exercise.

  • Spend less time kicking yourself over your addiction and more time considering the relationship with yourself. Be honest: is smoking a punishment? What are you avoiding?

  • You have the ability to choose health over addiction. What will motivate you—health, family, children?

  • Consider the value of your physical body. Be kind, as it deserves a break from processing toxins.

Smoking has an insidious and complex effect and quitting can be just as complicated. Though there are a lot of methods available, nurturing compassion for yourself could help you take a more effective—and honest—approach to quitting.