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Why Is It So Hard to Quit Smoking?

Updated May 16, 2024
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Chances are, you probably know someone who used to smoke. For those who have managed to kick the habit, quitting was probably one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. Smoking contributes to millions of deaths each year, so what makes people start, and why is it so hard to quit?

There are many factors that can influence a person to start smoking, including the depiction of smoking in popular culture, growing up in a home where smoking occurs, and genetics. In fact, research conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2008 revealed that "at least half of a person's susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors."

The tobacco found in cigarettes is addicting because it contains nicotine, a psychoactive substance. Psychoactive substances change how the brain works and can cause changes in mood and behavior. When nicotine is inhaled, the effects are very rapid, giving the user an almost immediate sense of enjoyment. However, this feeling disappears quickly, leaving users with the urge to consume more tobacco products.

The brain function of someone who smokes regularly is adversely affected as it becomes nicotine-reliant. In fact, smokers have billions more nicotine receptors in the brain than nonsmokers. If a user suddenly stops smoking, unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms will occur as the brain tries to adjust to not having nicotine around.

Many smokers connect smoking with things they do during the day, including routines, making quitting that much more difficult. Avoiding these “triggers” is an important step in the process of quitting. There are also help groups, social media apps, and medicines specifically designed to help people stop smoking.

Kicking the habit:

  • According to the National Cancer Institute, withdrawal symptoms may include depression, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, and lack of appetite.

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, once a person stops smoking, health benefits include the following: a person’s heart rate decreases within 20 minutes, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal within 12 hours, lung function and circulation improve within three months, and a person’s risk of having a heart attack reduces by half after a year.

  • Resources for smokers trying to quit include the National Cancer Institute Quitline at 1-877- 44U-QUIT or by finding your state’s quitline by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Chatting with a quit-smoking counselor is also available through LiveHelp.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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