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You have made your decision: you are going to stop smoking. You know that the first few weeks will be difficult and you also know that giving up smoking is not something to be taken lightly. But do you really know what to expect in your new, cigarette-free life? I asked Marie-Françoise Legillon, an addictions nurse from the Decathlon Health Team, to tell us more about stopping smoking.READ MORE
Since tobacco is an addiction, just like alcohol or other drugs, (“you will be a former smoker for the rest of your life. Tobacco is a psychoactive substance, just like alcohol. When you have been addicted, you will always keep a memory in the reward circuit in your brain,” explains Marie-Françoise Legillon), it is important to take stopping smoking seriously.
What strategies can I employ to ensure I stop for good? In order to do so, motivation will be absolutely key. But it's not the only thing
“Stopping smoking has three facets: physical, psychological and behavioural. Physical dependency is the stage which takes place during the first few days, 7 to 10 in general.” This phase will occur after you make your decision to stop smoking, after going to see your GP, who may prescribe patches if necessary. This meeting will also be a chance to have two tests:
- the CO test, which assesses the level of carbon monoxide in the lungs, thus indicating the smoker's degree of intoxication,
- the Fagerström test, composed of a series of questions which enable the doctor to gauge a smoker's dependency.
Armed with these two results, you will then start your new, tobacco-free life (although do note that these 2 figures will not be provided automatically, unless you consult an addictions doctor).
“Successfully stopping smoking is very closely linked to understanding the physical and behavioural dependency created by cigarettes," adds Marie-Françoise Legillon, our addictions nurse. "So, you must not minimise the approach, but rather explain what will be difficult and be totally upfront to ensure the future ex-smoker is prepared for these stages. When they do occur, it will be less daunting”.
In some ways, it is like a sport event, where mental preparation will perhaps make all the difference.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of these stages is craving. Craving, while close to physical dependence, corresponds to the following stage: it is a desperate need to smoke but one which lasts for just 10 minutes. OK, maybe 15 minutes. Any you need to be aware of this! Because knowing that your craving will soon be over is very helpful in resisting the urge to buy a packet of cigarettes.
You will surely suffer relapses. But you can stop feeling guilty right now: it's no big deal! More than anything else, this does not mean that you have to admit defeat. Relapses are part of any addict's journey. Because don't forget that you have an addition to tobacco: just like any other addiction.
“The addict's journey may contain a false step (I smoke 1 cigarette one evening) or relapse (I start smoking again) which you will need to discuss with your addiction doctor or GP. Don't feel guilty. Talking things through and understanding the issues often helps you find new strategies and rediscover your motivation; a little motivational maintenance is essential.”
Well, nearly. Gaining between 3 and 5 kg is virtually a given (smoking slows down the storage of fat and stops you from getting hungry). But you will lose this weight in year 2! You might also consider taking up a sport to reduce this weight gain.
The trick to giving up smoking is to find strategies to battle through the hard times. Phoning somebody, going for a jog, baking some cookies.
This is behavioural dependence. Marie-Françoise Legillon can also tell us about her experience of giving up cigarettes: “I had stopped for about 7 or 8 months. There were almost no more cravings. There was just this one red light, every day. It was the first cigarette I would light up on my way home after work. So I changed my route home.”
What lessons can we learn from our addictions doctor? The important thing is to understand the origin of these cravings. By noticing these clues and discussing them in your chats with the your doctors, you should be able to identify the high-risk moments and try and avoid them.
These 3 aspects, physical, psychological and behavioural, are essential for sopping smoking effectively.
There are a number of objectives of this preparation and support: knowing what to expect and telling yourself you are not alone. You must also not lose sight of another essential aspect: motivation! Knowing why you are giving up smoking and finding a meaning to it all may appear basic, but is absolutely crucial: “it is a challenge which calls for proper preparation. And, sometimes, it may just not be the right moment. If you are already going through a hard time, piling on more stress is a bad idea and is likely to lead to failure, which is rarely beneficial when considering another attempt.”
And what about you? What's your reason for giving up smoking? Financial reasons? Your health? Your fitness and performance? Setting yourself a challenge? Tell all!
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