Why is smoking addictive?
Almost everyone who has ever given up smoking or tried to give up smoking will have found that it's not an easy thing to do. Smoking is highly addictive and the longer you've smoked for the more it will have become part of your daily life and routine. It becomes not only an addiction in the medical and chemical sense but also a habit and a crutch that we use to lean on.
Addiction is described as a repeated, compulsive seeking or use of a substance. Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco, anyone who has tried to stop smoking without vaping nicotine e-liquids or using another type of nicotine replacement product will understand exactly what that means. You run out of cigarettes, you go to the shop and buy more. You need a cigarette while you are out with friends, you'll leave them and go and find somewhere you can smoke.
Nicotine is a drug that occurs naturally in tobacco leaves, when we smoke it, it alters the balance of chemicals in our brains. This has an effect on our mood and concentration. The longer we smoke for, the more we get used to the nicotine and what it does to our bodies, making it more difficult to stop using it. We end up eventually needing the nicotine to feel 'normal'.
If you try to stop smoking without any help, the effects of nicotine withdrawal can be quite overwhelming. Before I started vaping I tried twice to just quit and go through what's commonly known as 'cold turkey', I know a couple of people who have done it so I thought I could too. I'm sure many of you reading this will have tried and will know that I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never felt as bad as I did when I tried to just stop smoking after 30 years. It was torturous, and for those couple of days I couldn't really function at all as a normal person. I was anxious, irritable and the cravings were so intense would have done anything for a cigarette. I have nothing but admiration for people who have quit smoking like this, with just willpower alone, but I just wasn't in a strong enough place mentally to succeed. When I eventually did stop smoking using an e-cigarette it almost felt like cheating. I know that it isn't, it's just a great tool to use, like a chainsaw is a great tool to use if you have 10 trees to fell.
I read somewhere a while back that around half of the smokers in the UK try to quit each year but only a few actually manage it without some kind of help. I don't have the evidence on hand to back that up but it wouldn't surprise me if that's the case. Because it's not only the nicotine we are, or were, addicted to, smoking creates a strong emotional dependence. We lean on it at tough times, if we got some bad news, we'd light up. Car breaks down, we'd light up even if we've only just put one out. We also associate it with having fun, having a drink, or just chatting to someone while having a cigarette. It gives us courage to speak to strangers and relief from a hard morning at work. It's why most people still find stopping smoking difficult even if they are replacing the nicotine with another product. We don't want to change our habits and lifestyle, our routines and rituals.
We connect our smoking routines with our daily activities and these create mental triggers, making it hard to do those activities without thinking about smoking or just lighting a cigarette without even thinking about it, it just becomes an automatic reaction to a situation. For me it was as simple as sitting down with a cup of tea, I don't think I can remember a time when that didn't lead to me automatically having a cigarette too. If I couldn't smoke because I was in a cafe, I would rarely enjoy the tea, because it would trigger my desire to smoke. Being aware of these triggers is a big help when trying to quit.
Smoking is also hard to quit because the withdrawal symptoms can feel particularly unpleasant. If the withdrawal symptoms were a mild headache for a few weeks we could all probably stop without too much difficulty, it would just be a matter of battling past the cravings for a week or so. Sadly the list of symptoms is long: Depression; feeling irritable, panicky or anxious; digestive issues; insomnia; dizziness; feeling like you have flu, with a cough and sore throat. Essentially it makes you feel rotten. So while we are trying to keep nicotine cravings at bay, avoid triggers and carry on without the crutch we were so used to, we also feel like death as well... as if it wasn't going to be hard enough to quit already. It's no wonder that we often fail and take the easy way out and just go back to smoking.
As well as nicotine there are literally thousands of other chemicals in a cigarette that our body gets used to having inside it. Any number of these might be doing something to us that makes the process of stopping more difficult, they are stimulants that we get used to and when we aren't getting them we notice it. It's strange to think how tolerant we become to all these stimulants and toxins we are putting into our bodies and to the act of breathing in, what is in essence, smouldering plant matter.
As you know vaping was my way to be free from smoking. I got to a point where I'd had enough, my health was deteriorating quicker than it should be and the need to do something wasn't a choice. I've beaten my emotional dependence on smoking, I've got though the withdrawal of all the other chemicals other than nicotine and smoking is no longer a crutch I need. I'm still addicted to nicotine but I'm no longer addicted to smoking and the benefits of that have been more than I could of imagined.
Simon - My Vape Box