Christian Machado, MD is a board-certified primary care physician practicing family medicine at Inova Medical Group – Annandale. He loves working with patients to understand what motivates them so he can help them work toward healthier lifestyle choices.
Wanting to stop smoking is easy—approximately 68% of adult smokers say they want to quit. Around half of adult smokers even attempt to quit each year. But it’s finding a way to be successful with smoking cessation that’s hard.
The good news is that people do successfully quit smoking. Almost 62% of adult smokers who ever smoked have stopped. Those former smokers will likely tell you that it takes the right information, a solid plan and strong support to make it happen.
If you’re committed to making this the year you finally stop smoking, here’s what you need to know to get started:
Why Is It So Hard to Quit Smoking?
Smoking cessation is hard… for everyone. Whether you wean yourself off nicotine or stop it cold turkey, withdrawal symptoms can be rough.
The good news is that those symptoms won’t last forever and typically taper off after about three months. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Feeling restless
- Increased cravings
- Irritability and mood swings
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain (often no more than 3 to 5 pounds)
Any of these symptoms make it easy to start smoking again. But remember that a relapse isn’t forever — each slip-up is still one step closer to quitting. Take what you learned and use it to alter your next approach to smoking cessation.
Short- and Long-Term Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. But if you are a regular smoker, quitting can have both an immediate impact and big health benefits over time.
Once you stop smoking, expect your health to improve over time:
- After 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop
- After a few days, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal
- By three months, your circulation and lung function improve
- By one year, coughing and shortness of breath decrease while lungs start to regain normal function, reducing the risk of infection
- In two years, your risk of heart attack drops significantly
- Within 10 years, your risk of mouth, throat and voice box cancers cut in half and your risk of stroke decreases
- After 10 or 15 years, your risk of lung cancer is half of someone still smoking and your risk of coronary heart disease is close to that of a non-smoker
Tips to Quit Smoking Successfully
If you are planning to stop smoking, follow this advice to set yourself up for success:
1. Identify Why You Smoke
Figuring out why and when you smoke may make it easier to find a healthier substitution or make an important life change. If your stressful job or long commute makes you crave a cigarette, it might be time to look for a new job closer to home. Or focus your energy on finding a relaxing hobby to enjoy after work. If you smoke when you are anxious, talk to your primary care provider (PCP) about other ways to treat your anxiety.
2. Use More Than One Strategy to Quit Smoking (& Stay Quit)
If you’ve tried to quit before but haven’t been able to, it might be time to consider a new approach. Attacking the problem from every angle gives you the best chance of success. Consider using:
- Counseling: A therapist can help you get to the root of why you smoke, help you manage withdrawal symptoms and provide coping exercises.
- Prescription medication: When taken for an average of 12 weeks, prescribed medication reduces cravings while you set new habits.
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT): These FDA-approved therapies come in the form of nicotine skin patches, gum and lozenges. They help reduce cravings and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
Studies show that combining NRT and medication improves smoking cessation. When you add behavioral therapy to understand what drives your smoking habit, you may be able to avoid a relapse.
3. Find Someone to Hold you Accountable
Having support can make a big difference when you stop smoking. Identify someone in your life who is a non-smoker, enjoys the same activities, and knows you well. If you can’t find a supportive family member or friend, look to your provider. PCPs can act as your support, connect you with a support group or recommend a supportive therapist.
4. Know That Vaping is Not a Long-Term Strategy
Many people turn to vaping as a step-down from smoking cigarettes. But be careful. While vaping may help get you away from smoking, you’ll eventually need to stop vaping as well. Experts are still gathering information about vaping-induced lung injuries and long-term health effects. Talk to your provider to see if vaping is a good option for your smoking cessation plan.
5. Look to Your Primary Care Provider as a Resource for Smoking Cessation
PCPs can be a great source of information and resources when you are trying to quit. They can provide medicine, offer resources for therapy and get you connected with the right support system. Your PCP also knows your medical history and personalizes smoking cessation to you, improving your chance of success.
If you’re ready to take the first step toward quitting smoking, schedule an appointment with your PCP. If you do not have a PCP, we welcome you to make an appointment with a provider at any of our Primary Care locations.