HOUGHTON - A simple Google search of 'How to quit smoking' yields over 30,000,000 results. The variety of treatment options and psychological tactics are enormous with no one-size-fits-all solution that works for every smoker. With such an overwhelming wealth of information and advice, smokers considering quitting may find themselves wondering where to start.
"The first thing is they have to want to quit," said Melissa Vertin, physician's assistant at Portage Health University Centers in Houghton.
Some of the many medical risks associated with smoking cigarettes include lung cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, osteoporosis, coronary artery disease and hearts. Smoking can also increase risks for medication side effects such as heart attack and stroke.
Overcoming a nicotine addiction can physically and psychologically challenging. Smoking increases the amount of dopamine - also known as the "feel good hormone" - in the smoker's system. Those hoping to break their nicotine addiction must find a treatment option that will work for them and can include nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medication and different methods to address the psychological addiction to nicotine.
Nicotine replacement therapies include nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, inhalers and sprays. As opposed to quitting "cold turkey," nicotine replacement therapy slowly weans the user off nicotine until their cravings are manageable or nonexistent.
"The nicotine replacement (therapies) are to help people go through the withdrawal of nicotine. It's just like any other addiction where your body becomes more tolerant to it and you can have withdrawal side effects from it - increased agitation, irritability, moodiness, depression, change your appetite, weight gain," said Vertin. "So, with nicotine replacement patches or any other nicotine replacement therapy, it's slowly (taking) you off of the nicotine to try to decrease that addictive property so that you can completely break that cycle of addiction."
Nicotine replacement therapies are sold over the counter and so are considered safe for all users, but Vertin suggests it is best to consult with a doctor before starting any such therapy. Which method to use depends largely on individual preference and smoking history. A patch, for example, continuously delivers nicotine to the user's system and so may be better suited to heavier smokers who have built up a tolerance to nicotine. A lighter smoker may be able to control cravings with occassional doses of nicotine contained in lozenges and sprays.
Another approach smokers can take to quitting is using prescription drugs, which contain no nicotine.
"Somebody who doesn't want to necessarily supplement their addiction with the nicotine, which is their addiction, may want to try something different," said Vertin.
Prescription drugs may also be appropriate for those who have attempted to quit using nicotine replacement therapy or people who have concurrent symptoms that can also be treated by the prescribed medication, such as depression. One prescription currently on the market that specifically treats nicotine addiction is Chantix, which targets the receptors to which nicotine binds to help break the cycle of addiction.
"A lot of people on (Chantix) - you can smoke on the medication and you're supposed to pick a stop date - say it just doesn't taste good anymore," said Levin. "So it's an aversion to it as well as reducing cravings and helping with the actual addiction."
Preparing for the psychological importance of quitting is another important part of the process. Levin listed many ways that people cope with cravings, including supplementing a craving for a cigarette with a different activity such as exercise, changing habits that the smoker relates with smoking, finding a supportive friend or family member to call when a craving hits and finding a supportive social group to help with cravings. Before quitting, she suggests talking with friends or family members who have quit about their experience in order to better understand what the process will feel like.
Also important to remember, Levin said, is that it may not work the first time.
"It takes a lot of people three, four, five, six tries to stop smoking," she said. "So we tell them that if they fall off the wagon one time, well other people have done it too. Just try to get back on."
In addition to speaking with a doctor there are public resources available to those who want to quit smoking. The Center for Disease Control has resources and advice on their website at www.cdc.gov/tobacco, as does the American Lung Association at www.lung.org/stop-smoking. Nicotine Anonymous have telephone and internet meetings daily, with times listed on their website at www.nicotine-anonymous.org.
"It's a huge thing to try to take on and we give a lot of people credit because it's an addiction. It's not easy to kick," Levin said.