Smoking is one of the primary causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s also a major trigger for flare-ups. According to lung.org, approximately 85 – 90% of COPD cases are caused by smoking. Female smokers are nearly 13 times as likely to die from COPD as women who have never smoked, and male smokers are nearly 12 times as likely to die from COPD as men who have never smoked. Quitting smoking can help slow down the disease, so it’s never too late to quit.
The reality is that two out of three people who smoke today want to quit smoking and those with COPD have an urgent need to quit.
But smoking is very addictive, and quitting is very challenging. When a person smokes, hundreds of toxins and chemicals enter the lungs and body, including nicotine. It reaches the brain within a few seconds of the first puff and releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine gives the brain a feeling of pleasure and reward.
After a few minutes, this feeling goes away. It makes the person restless and having an urge to light up another cigarette. Then another—and so on. This is how smoking becomes a habit that is hard to break. As the body gets used to nicotine, it needs more amount to have the same level of satisfaction. This makes someone only want to continue to smoke.
Smoking & COPD: Trapped in a Cycle
Many people can end up feeling trapped in this repetitive cycle. When a person with COPD smokes their lungs will get damaged more rapidly than if they stopped smoking. However, a person who stops smoking may feel symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. They may get easily irritated, become restless, have headaches, constipation, and/or an increase in appetite. These symptoms start to go away after a few days, and are usually gone within a month, however.
So even though two out of three people who smoke want to quit, the physical and emotional addiction makes it difficult. Quitting can be tough, but it’s possible.
Tips for People with COPD to Quit the Habit
If you’re a smoker who’s been diagnosed with COPD and you want to quit, here are 6 tips to manage nicotine withdrawal to help you quit for good:
1. Examine your motivation
Ask yourself, “Why do I want to quit” Having a purpose or a reason for quitting will help you stay motivated. Some smokers with COPD have experienced the inability to function normally in their daily activities and be able to do everyday tasks. Some do it for their children or someone that really matters to them. What’s your reason? Write it down if desired.
2. Use the power of replacement
Replace the smoking habit with something else. This is especially important at times when you feel an urge or have a trigger to smoke. First, find out what triggers you. Triggers could be any task or environment that prompts you to smoke such as driving, talking on phone, being with friends, or after meals.
List your triggers and try to replace them with something different. Remember, this strong urge will go away after some time, so keep your hands, mouth, and brain busy during this time. Better choices could include drawing, play a game, chew a gum or biting on a straw, eating a healthy snack, or calling a friend, for example.
3. Find your support group
Tell your family and friends that you are quitting so they can support you and understand your challenge. Include them in your journey to freedom. This can help with positive accountability. There are also helplines and local clinics available to help you in quitting. Do not hesitate to call them and get the support you need for success.
4. Get clear on your quit date
Set a quit date. You’re more likely to succeed if you set a date for quitting and try to stick with that date.
5. Consider medication
You may decide to use medicine to help you stop smoking. You are three to four times more likely to succeed this way. These medicines help by controlling symptoms of withdrawal, moods, and cravings.
One is Nicotine replacement therapy. Nicotine patches will give a small amount to nicotine to the body for helping with withdrawal and Nicotine gums, sprays or lozenges can be used as needed at times urge. Other medicines and methods are also available. Discuss with your doctor or smoking cessation expert which medicine is right for you.
6. Recognize it takes resilience over time
Keep in mind that it may take more than one attempt for you to quit, but don’t give up, and don’t lose heart. Keep trying and seek help along the way. Every cigarette you avoid is saving you and the people around you.
Benefits of Breaking the Habit
One of your major motivators to quit smoking may be slowing the progression of your COPD symptoms each day. Thankfully, the benefits of quitting start soon after a person stops smoking and will continue for the rest of your life. Consider these statistics:
- Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure start to drop down to normal.
- Within a day of your last cigarette, the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood will return to normal.
- One month after quitting, breathing starts getting better, and continues to improve throughout the year. Your sense of smell improves, and your immune system gets stronger, too.
- In 1-3 months, the risk of heart attacks starts declining.
- After one year, this risk of heart attack is reduced by 50 percent.
- During the next 5-10 years, the risk of stroke and heart diseases continues to get lower and can reach same level as of those who never smoked. During that same time, the risk of all smoking related cancers reduces by more than half.
Thanks to the following contributors for this blog: Muhammad Ahsan Zafar, MD, MS, Pulmonary & Critical Care, University of Cincinnati and Sharon Noelker, RRT, Pulmonary Rehabilitation, University of Cincinnati.
This blog is for educational purposes only; talk to your provider to understand recommendations specific to you.
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