If you've tried quitting before, you may have felt irritable when you didn't have a cigarette. Why has quitting smoking been so hard? The answer has a lot to do with nicotine.
The Nicotine Addiction Cycle
For many people, smoking is more than a habit. It's a nicotine addiction. Nicotine withdrawal is why you probably feel irritable or anxious when you don't have a cigarette. That's why we say quitting smoking is a physical challenge.
- When you smoke, nicotine goes to the brain in seconds.
- When nicotine is in the brain, it causes the release of a chemical called dopamine, which can give smokers the feeling of pleasure and calm.
- Your body doesn't want that feeling to stop. But when you're between cigarettes, the level of dopamine drops.
- Even if you want to quit, the body craves nicotine. This makes you keep smoking.
Learn how the nicotine addiction process can occur.
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(Model for demonstration purposes)
The More You Smoke, the More Nicotine You Need
Over time, each cigarette you smoke may become less and less effective. That's because, as the brain gets used to nicotine, you may need to smoke more to have the same feeling of pleasure and calm. Of course, the more you smoke, the more you inhale toxins in cigarettes that are linked to smoking-related illnesses.
How Does It Feel to Quit?
On top of feeling the urge to smoke, you may also feel some of these common physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
- Dizziness (at first)
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Increased appetite
- Slower heart rate
These effects usually lessen over time. If you feel nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and not everyone does, it may be helpful to try to think of it as your body learning to live without nicotine.
How Your Doctor Can Help
Quitting smoking is hard, but possible. Your doctor can talk to you about nicotine addiction and tell you about treatment options and behavioral support that may be right for you.