Obviously smoking cigarettes is bad. What is not obvious is that most smokers are only moderately addicted to nicotine, and withdrawal lasts a few days to 3 weeks. Many go back to smoking weeks or even months later, when craving for cigarettes has nothing to do with the addiction to the nicotine.
The habit of smoking can last a lifetime. Cigarettes become a ritual, where the reward for smoking eventually has anything to do with nicotine. Most people smoke at the same times every day, in response to the same triggers, and the habit becomes deeply ingrained. It is a habit often performed without thought.
How A Habit Is Formed
A habit has 3 parts, the cue, action, and reward. Most people are familiar with their cues to smoke. The action is smoking a cigarette, but not the reward. The reward is likely something unrelated to smoking, like the relief from boredom, a break from stressful activities, or an excuse to socialize. Once a habit becomes ingrained it can’t be erased, but it can be replaced!
Recent research shows how a habit becomes a behavioral dependency. When an action follows a cue and something good happens, the body releases dopamine, the pleasure hormone. After the habit is repeated a number of times, the brain begins to release dopamine in response to the cue. That means just the sight of a cigarette makes it almost impossible to think about anything else.
A counselor can help recognize the triggers and reasons for smoking, then offer alternative habits. Most smokers that quit smoking cold turkey probably use some sort of habit replacement without knowing by swapping cigarettes for unhealthy snacks. While the snacks work to keep the hands and mouth busy, it doesn’t satisfy the same cues and rewards. A good new habit, if the reward for smoking is a break from daily activities, might be making a cup of herbal tea.
Habits are a powerful force that can be used to greatly improve health and wellness. Becoming aware of the cues to smoke, and replacing it with a new healthy habit, is an effective way to replace smoking for good.
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