Smoking is a leading preventable cause of death in the United States.1 As the Centers For Disease Control highlight, there are more people addicted to nicotine, the addictive element of cigarettes, than any other substance.2 If you have decided to give up smoking, you should be prepared for the effort as well as the time it will take. But how long does it actually take to quit smoking? And why try quitting at all? Here are some answers.
According to the American Heart Association, smoking increases your risk of chronic disorders like atherosclerosis that can cause a stroke or coronary heart disease. In fact, they list cigarette and tobacco smoke as one of the seven risk factors for coronary heart disease that can be controlled or modified.3 In addition, if you smoke, your body’s ability for physical activity also drops. The carbon monoxide produced when you smoke is inhaled and causes the oxygen carried by your red blood cells to drop. The levels of good HDL cholesterol drop and the tendency of your blood to clot also goes up when you are a smoker.4 About 90 percent of all lung cancer cases in the country are connected to smoking.5
Equally important, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and many other cancers, stroke, and infertility.6 Reason enough to want to quit, whether for yourself or to avoid the ill effects of passive smoking that your loved ones are exposed to due to your habit.
Quitting Smoking: What Does It Involve?
What makes smoking such a hard-to-kick habit is the addictive chemical nicotine. Besides being extremely addictive, it damages your body, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and narrowing your arteries –possibly even adding to the hardening of the walls. What’s more, the chemical lingers in your body for as long as 6–8 hours after you have smoked. When you try and quit smoking, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms as with any addiction.7
There are multiple methods that can be used to help you quit smoking. And how long you take to quit depends on both your commitment to stick with the program, as well as the type of treatment or method you choose to help you quit. But why depend on these at all? Can’t you go it alone? While some are able to do so successfully, many successful quitters say that having the help of a support group or a professional makes all the difference. It also takes a fair bit of patience, so be prepared for a slow process to quitting. Things may not happen overnight, and you could struggle initially, so don’t be afraid to get help.
Broadly, aside from self-quitting, your options include:
- Nicotine replacement therapy8
- Non-nicotine medication like varenicline or bupropion9
- Behavioral therapies10
- Individual, group, or telephone counseling11
The CDC suggests using a combination of both counseling and medication rather than either alone for a better shot at quitting.12
Be prepared to experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms that include irritability, anxiety, difficulty thinking, hunger(more than normal), anger, and a craving for tobacco products. Above all else, once you decide to quit, know that it will not be easy. As experts point out, people often take several attempts at quitting before they able to quit for good.13 Some withdrawal symptoms show up as early as just 2 to 3 hours from when you last smoked for some people, especially among those who have smoked heavily or for a long period of time. In general, the symptoms of withdrawal are at their worst about 2 to 3 days after you had your last smoke.14
Methods You Can Choose And The Time Factor
Some choose to quit on the strength of their willpower alone – and that isn’t easy. You could give this a go, but be prepared for the road to be tough. Also, how long it’ll take will depend entirely on your will power. You may want to supplement self-quitting with help from a counselor or a peer group you could speak with, should the need arise. While there are anecdotes of people who managed to successfully do this alone, everyone is different. Some found it effortless, others struggled with it but succeeded eventually, and many failed as well. You will need to decide if this is the way for you.
Here are some of the other, more popular methods you could use to quit – these will require you to approach the appropriate practitioner for a prescription or to enroll for sessions.
2. Nicotine Replacement Therapy
Nicotine replacement therapy is an 8 to 12 week program where you use skin patches, special chewing gum, inhalators, lozenges, oral strips, tablets, mouth or nasal sprays that release nicotine in controlled amounts. Over time the dosage is reduced and ultimately stopped altogether, helping you de-addict.15
3. Non-Nicotine Medication
You could try getting rid of your addiction to smoking using varenicline or bupropion. Both are prescription medications.16
Varenicline: These tablets are to be taken over 12 weeks and, in some cases, a little longer. Varenicline acts by cutting cravings for nicotine and blocking off the “reward” effect you get from smoking. You need to start taking the pills a week or two before you actually quit smoking.
Bupropion: If you take these pills, the process lasts between 7 and 9 weeks. The medication, also used to treat depression, is assumed to work on the section of the brain responsible for addictive behavior.
4. Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological intervention that can also be applied to help people quit smoking. It is best used in combination with other methods and helps you modify and restructure how you think and establishes new learning behaviors to help you quit and stay off smoking. From understanding the negative health effects of smoking to exploring the positive effects of becoming a non-smoker and helping the individual find people in their life who will support them through the process of quitting, sessions cover the whole range of issues. Counter conditioning helps identify alternatives to smoking. These include relaxation techniques to ease stress or activities to distract you like reading or speaking to a friend.17 In general, CBT runs for 5 to 20 sessions that can be scheduled every week or every fortnight. Each session is between half an hour to an hour long.18
The effectiveness of counseling is said to increase with the intensity of the treatment. Skills training and problem solving, the practical aspect of counseling, are combined with social support.19 As the American Cancer Society points out, you should be able to find a good quit smoking class through your local health department, the American Lung Association, or the American Cancer Society. Stop Smoking programs usually run for at least 2 weeks, with a minimum of 4 sessions of around half an hour each.
Try and find something that runs longer, enabling you to get access to more sessions and a more intense regimen to help your chances of a successful deaddiction. Support groups like Nicotine Anonymous can help you quit smoking through a 12-step program. They enable face-to-face, telephonic, and internet-based meetings and you will need to set your own goals and timelines for putting smoking behind you. It could be 30 days, 90 days, or longer. Be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. For the times when it seems like too much effort just reach out to your peer group or facilitators to talk through it.20
|↑1, ↑3, ↑4||Why Quit Smoking? American Heart Association.|
|↑2, ↑6, ↑10, ↑11, ↑12, ↑13||Quitting Smoking. CDC.|
|↑5, ↑7||Smoking: Do you really know the risks? American Heart Association.|
|↑8, ↑9, ↑15, ↑16||Stop smoking treatments. NHS.|
|↑14||Nicotine and tobacco. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑17||The Quitting Process: Experiential and Behavioral Strategies. University of California, University of Southern California, and Western University of Health Sciences.|
|↑18||Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – How it works. NHS.|
|↑19||Fiore, M. C., C. Roberto Jaen, TBea Baker, W. C. Bailey, N. L. Benowitz, SJ et al Curry, S. F. Dorfman et al. “Treating tobacco use and dependence: 2008 update.” Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services (2008).|
|↑20||Getting Help with the Mental Part of Tobacco Addiction. American Cancer Society.|