I'm addicted to smoking. How can I stop?

I'm planning to have baby, so I have to quit smoking - but it's hard. Sometimes it's not a physical need, it's mental.

I cannot help myself from thinking about smoking. What can I do to get rid of this addiction?

Rebecca Duellman
Rebecca Duellman
MA, Applied Psychology, Specializing in Forensic Psychology issues.

Hi. Good for you in planning ahead to do what's healthiest for your baby (and yourself). That's a great first step! It's also good that you are able to identify that it's not always a physical need that's driving the addiction.

For the next steps, I would suggest trying to figure out when the psychological cravings for a cigarette occur. The psychological (or mental) cravings are usually based out of habit, such as having a cigarette after a meal. And if you're consciously trying to quit, you'll find the craving starts with simply thinking about having a cigarette, then usually moves on to thinking about how good it made you feel, etc., etc. Well, if I'm on a diet and I continue to let myself think about the ice cream sitting in the freezer, eventually I'll give in and eat it.

You're going to have thoughts about smoking a cigarette. That's normal and, for the most part, out of your control. But you choose whether or not to CONTINUE thinking and dwelling about it after that initial thought. That's what you would have to work on changing. When you have that initial thought, acknowledge it ("Ok, I kind of want a cigarette now."), but then change the thoughts that typically follow. Distract yourself, think about something else, do something else, whatever it takes to get your mind off of that cigarette.

I've suggested to clients before that they should plan these scenarios out ahead of time so they already know what they're going to do when the time comes. Write down when you usually have the craving for a cigarette and then write down new thoughts or things to do to get your mind off of it. Eventually, it will become easier and easier to brush off that initial thought until you no longer have it.

Best of luck, and you have a really great motivator to quit - your baby!

David Klein
David Klein
Humanistic Psychotherapy for Individuals & Couples

While smoking can be incredibly difficult to quit doing, it's not impossible, so the first thing to NOT lose is hope. And certainly planning to have a baby can be exactly the catalyst that one needs to motivate to complete this sort of task. But, as I said, it still won't be easy, even with the motivation there.

There is a definite physical component, but it's great that you can acknowledge the psychological addiction that exists. It would be helpful to dive into what that psychological need actually is, as it can vary from person to person (whereas the physical addiction doesn't as much, and therefor can be helped through gums and patches and inhalers, etc.) Exploring and getting to the root of the psychological need can help you to determine what is going on for you psychologically, and how else you can meet those needs of yours, perhaps in much healthier and more adaptive ways, that also help you to feel really good about yourself. While replacement is not always advocated, having psychological needs is not something to be ashamed of, but rather nurtured.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Charles  Lucas
Charles Lucas
HealthFit Counseling: Solutions for Change

It's very admirable that you are trying to stop smoking for the sake of your health and your child's health.  The mental aspect of quitting a drug can and usually is the hardest part.  First, it can be helpful to change the focus of your thinking so you are focusing on the healthy behaviors you will start/improve rather than only focusing on the behavior that you are trying to stop.  The reason for this is that our brains hear the main topic of our thoughts.  That is, when you tell yourself "quit smoking, quit smoking, quit smoking", your brain hears "smoking, smoking, smoking".  So we need to put together a self-care plan that addresses your thinking, emotions, and behaviors (nutrition, physical activity, and other stress reducing activities).  The idea is to have an effective plan in place to both prevent yourself from feeling intense stress (which increases cravings) and to have a well-placed plan for when the intense cravings inevitably present themselves.  And lastly, and possibly the most important; You have to believe you deserve to be the healthiest version of yourself.  Think about the times when you are most vulnerable to smoke (stressful situations, after meals, when drinking, social situations, etc.).  The use of affirmations is also an important resource as what we say to ourselves effects our mood.  Repeatedly telling yourself "i am healthy, "i am getting healthier, "my lungs are becoming clear and healthy" or other affirmations like this.  Even if you don't believe them at first, continue saying them.  This step is important to improve cognitive flexibility which trains your brain to be open to change.  Think about activities that you like to do or that you would like to try and replace smoking with those activities.  Any activity that can make you laugh (time with friends, watching comedies, etc.) will evoke a calming response because when we feel happy, we typically don't feel stressed out simultaneously. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Samantha  Osborne
Samantha Osborne
Encouraging and Compassionate

Breaking any habit is no easy feat.   Cutting down or cutting out cigarettes is very challenging, and there aren't any one size fits all solutions.  Fortunately, there are a lot of tricks and tools that you can use to stop smoking.  1. Many habits that we have are paired habits. If we do one thing, then we will do the other thing.  Think about the activities that you do when smoking and try to pair those activities with another activity other than smoking.  For instance, many people smoke while they drive.  Consider planning another activity to do while driving. (It might not be driving for you, but you get the idea! :)).  It might be taking a walk instead of smoking on your break at work.  

2.  Create distance between you and the habit you are trying to break.  This approach could be used in a variety of different ways.  If you smoke first thing in the morning, consider leaving your cigarettes in a different room in your home.  Walking the extra couple of feet could help you decide not to smoke.   Leave your credit or debit cards at home and carry less emergency cash than a pack of cigarettes.  With this strategy, you are trying to create some distance between you the cigarettes so that you have to jump through extra hoops to get them.  

3.  Consider cutting back before cutting out.  If you are smoking 10 cigarettes a day, try smoking 9. Then cut back to 8 and so on.  Having a plan to reduce harm may be more sustainable than cutting things out altogether. 

4.  You could also talk to your doctor about the safety of nicotine patches. If you aren't already pregnant, this could be a great resource to help boost your success.  

5. Focus on what you are gaining instead of what you are loosing. You may be losing cigarettes, but you are gaining money, health, taste buds, an increased sense of smell, lung capacity, a healthy baby etc.  You could plan small rewards/ treats with the money you save from decreasing cigarette purchases.  I recommend making these purchases small and frequent to keep up the momentum rather than waiting for a big payout a couple of months down the road.  

Good luck! Cutting out cigarettes will be good for you and your baby.  

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Richie (Yerachmiel)  Donowitz
Richie (Yerachmiel) Donowitz
Experienced - Compassionate- Measurable Results

Hopefully you feel you have the time to follow this procedure.

1. For a week - log when you smoke - time, place and activity

2. Plan on cutting back 10% for a week.Cut out the easiest times.

3.Next change the times and and activities for 3 days - consider water or candy or gum if it is very tough. 

4. Cut another 10% each week until you are done. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

It is very good news that you realize the risks of smoking cigarettes while pregnant and are willing to stop.

Thinking about smoking is a typical and frequent reaction to being without the substance.

Be creative with what you know about yourself to distract you when this psychological urge comes up.  

My suggestions are to imagine smoking if you find this would relieve the sense of wanting to smoke.

Or, do the opposite and remind yourself of all the good reasons to not smoke.

Also, since you're planning pregnancy then ask your partner for ideas on how to make the psychological feeling to want to smoke, feel less intense.

Another suggestion is that your partner is your texting buddy to stop smoking.   With AA groups, a sponsor is always available for the alcoholic who feels distress about the urge to drink.   

Having a trusted and caring person to tell about your problem helps in many situations.  Maybe it will help you to stop smoking.

Good luck!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

Quitting smoking can be difficult. It's also true that there is part that is sometimes a physical need and a part that is often connected to emotions in some way. From the way that you wrote this, it sounds like you may have been able to stop smoking physically, but still have cravings.

One thing you can do is talk with your primary care physician or OB/GYN about whether there is anything that you can take to help with the cravings. Sometimes that can very helpful.

As far as the more emotional or mental piece, these things come to mind:

  • Sometimes a crucial part is looking at the habit of smoking and seeing what else you can do to keep your mind and hands busy. There are sometimes toys, like those available at Office Playground, that may help to keep you physically occupied.
  • There can also be changes or additions to your routine because I imagine that smoking took up a great deal of your time. Maybe when you have the temptation to get up and go to have a cigarette, you could have several other things that you can get up and do instead. The list is endless, but a few examples could be doing some physical exercise (with the permission of your doctor) just for a couple minutes because that could help with the craving as well, completing a puzzle, learning a new activity that requires using your hands (painting or knitting, perhaps).
  • Another piece of quitting smoking is often linked to anxiety or other emotional changes, perhaps irritability. Depending on what it is that you may be feeling,  learning other strategies to use can be helpful as well.
  • This can all be quite overwhelming and a very big life change. I would recommend that if things do not become easier for you, consider talking with a therapist. Then you could not only have some more strategies or ideas directly related to you, but you could have very direct support for what you are trying to do.

I give you a lot of credit!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.

It can be challenging to quite anything once we set our mind to it.  We often crave the things more that we know we can not or should not have.  With that being said I would encourage you to become aware of the chemical dependency part that cigarettes have on your brain and your body.  Then make yourself aware of the mental part the habit part.  Often times people will engage in smoking again just from the mere social aspect of it.  Make yourself aware of these and devise a plan of the things you will do instead of going out on smoke breaks, or the ritual of smoking in the car on on the back porch.  There are plenty of support groups out there to help with this as well.  Smoking cessation is a good resource.  

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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