If you are ready to quit smoking, UM smoking cessation expert Kevin Ferentz has some advice for you.
You know you need to quit. You really want to quit. But smoking has become such a huge part of your life that you just can't imagine waking up in the morning without reaching for a cigarette, finishing a meal without lighting up or hanging out with your friends -- all smokers -- without smoking yourself.
So, how does one go about kicking the habit for good? What is going to make this year any different than previous ones when you resolved to swear off nicotine?
An effective strategy can help. If you're armed with a little knowledge, you can greatly improve your odds of success. You just have to know what you are up against.
"The difficulty people have when trying to quit around New Year's is that there is typically so much alcohol consumption during the holiday," said Kevin Scott Ferentz, M.D., associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"The alcohol makes it much less likely that you will be able to quit because most smokers like to smoke when they drink. I tell people who want to quit around New Year's not to worry if they don't quit exactly on New Year's Day."
Ferentz, who specializes in smoking cessation, said that choosing a quit date and sticking to it is an important part of breaking the habit. Smokers who want to become ex-smokers, however, must chose a date that makes sense for them.
"There is nothing wrong with making that day January 3rd or the 4th," Ferentz says. "Choosing a day later in the week after all of the parties and activities have died down is probably more realistic. You have to do what works for you because you don't want to set yourself up for failure."
Ferentz says one of the biggest mistakes smokers make when attempting to quit is that they give up the fight too soon if their initial efforts don't work. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of all adult smokers do manage to quit for good. Most of them, however, aren't successful the first time around. In fact, studies show that most smokers attempt to quit several times before they are able to make it stick.
"People shouldn't be hard on themselves," said Ferentz. "Quitting is a process. Smokers who want to quit and have tried and failed in the past shouldn't feel defeated because quitting is far from impossible. It is actually quite possible. There are more people out there who have successfully quit smoking than there are people who still smoke."
Here are some tips Ferentz suggests to keep in mind if quitting is one of your goals:
- Put it in writing. Write down your reasons for quitting on 3 x 5-inch index cards so you can refer to them when you are tempted to smoke.
- Explore your motives for smoking. Keep a journal before you quit to document your feelings about your habit. You want to include details about where you smoke most often, when you smoke, with whom and why. Review your diary after four or five days to identify feelings and circumstances that trigger your cravings for nicotine.
- Modify your behavior. Write down your "triggers" on the left side of a piece of paper and on the right side, jot down how you plan to either avoid or cope with those situations or feelings that send you reaching for nicotine.
- Reduce the pleasure quotient. Most people have favorite brands of cigarettes. In the week or so leading up to your quit date, ditch your favorites for other, less-appealing varieties. For example, buy menthols if you normally don't smoke them. Buy low-tar filters or light versions of your favorite brand or try new, unusual brands that you've never smoked before. This practice will make the habit of smoking seem less appealing and easier to stop.
- Spread the news. Tell everyone you know you're quitting to develop a network of family members, co-workers and friends who can support your efforts.
- Get rid of smoking paraphernalia. Throw out all of your ashtrays, matches and lighters.
- Go cold turkey. Despite an urge to gradually cut back, stopping completely on your chosen quit date is the best approach to kicking the habit for good.
- Reward yourself. Come up with reasons to celebrate your quitting at regular intervals. For example, a week after you quit, go to the movies or bowling. A month after quitting, go to a nice hotel for an evening or treat yourself to a shopping spree. A year after quitting, go on a nice vacation with the money you save from no longer buying packs of cigarettes.
- If you relapse, don't panic. Identify what it was that triggered your desire to smoke again and come up with a way to cope with the trigger. The urge to smoke -- no matter how overwhelming -- will pass after a few minutes, whether or not you give into it.
- Seek help. If you aren't able to quit on your own, try using aids such as nicotine gum or the nicotine patch. If you still aren't able to quit, see your doctor about other options. You may also want to join a support group. Whatever you do, don't give up!
For patient inquiries or to make an appointment, call 1-800-492-5538