Last week we discussed on the non-psychotic effects of smoking, which included the increase in the risk of occurrence of cancer, lung diseases, cardiac and vascular diseases. We also noted that cigarette smoke mainly contains carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine. This time we are going to look at how smoking affects our mental faculties, and how we can be free from its chains.
Of the triad of cigarette smoke constituents, nicotine has both psychological and non-psychotic effects and it is highly addictive. Soon after exposure to it, the body`s first reaction is the "kick" which is caused by the drug`s stimulation of the adrenal glands resulting in the release of adrenaline. In turn, adrenaline increases blood glucose, blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. Nicotine also supresses the release of insulin - a hormone that facilitates the uptake of sugar from the bloodstream, by the pancreas leading to diabetes-like effects, that is increased blood glucose. This increases the risk of smokers, who are in constant exposure to the drug, to develop diabetes.
The psychotic effects of nicotine occur when the drug stimulates the release of some brain chemicals, dopamine, in the pleasure and motivation areas of the brain. Dopamine affects emotions, movements and sensation of pleasure and pain. An increase in dopamine levels, triggered by the nicotine from cigarette smoke, brings a sense of pleasure and the feeling of contentment. Nicotine can also act as a sedative, which brings a calming and soothing effect. It is also linked to increased alertness, improved memory and concentration; and it reduces anxiety. These are the euphoric effects that excite smokers, what they term as "being high".
With the constant exposure to smoke, the body becomes "used" to the presence of nicotine; and would require a higher dose in order to enjoy the same euphoric effects. This is called nicotine tolerance. The desire to "get high" will prompt smokers to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke per day to the extent that they feel like they cannot live without a "pull". Nicotine is highly addictive and a sudden stop to a regular consumer will result in withdrawal symptoms which may include cravings, a sense of emptiness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability and difficulties in focusing or paying attention.
So, how do you quit? … Quitting smoking is not a single event that happens on one day; rather it is a journey that requires behavioural changes. It comes with a number of positive advantages which include improvement of health, quality and duration of your life and of those around you. Quitting smoking requires you to alter your behaviour so that you cope up with the withdrawal symptoms that come with cutting off nicotine, and also to manage your moods.
1. Set up a quit date. The decision to quit is the first step of the journey. Setting up a date makes the mission more important and adds the weight of seriousness to the decision. Pick a date that is not too far in the future, but which gives you enough time to prepare. Decide whether you are going to:
• Quit abruptly, that is you continue smoking right up until your quit date and then stop.
• Quit gradually, that is you reduce your cigarette intake slowly until your quit date and then stop.
On the quit day, do not smoke at all; stay busy; drink more water and juice; avoid alcohol, avoid individuals who are smoking and avoid situations that urge you to smoke.
2. Tell your friends, family and co-workers about your decision to quit, and about your quit date. Sharing this with people who care about you is a source of encouragement that will keep you disciplined and focused on your goal. Family and friends will help your on this quest. If possible, join a stop smoking support group where you will find comrades like you fighting the same enemy. Listen to the stories of people who have successfully quit smoking and draw inspiration from them.
3. Stopping smoking comes with various withdrawal symptoms that have been mentioned earlier. When the craving comes, use oral substitutes like gum, toothpicks or candy, instead of taking a cigarette.
4. Get rid of all the items that are related to your smoking. Throw away your ashtrays, destroy the cigarettes and get rid of the lighters. All these things may trigger the desire to take a pull. Break routines that included smoking as part of your day. At smoke breaks, rather than lighting a cancer stick, drink a glass of juice. This will help your brain to associate the time with juice rather than smoking
To win the rigorous battle of the urge to smoke, make use of the four D`s:
• Delay until the craving passes. This may seem hard to overcome, but try your best.
• Deep breathe. Breathing in slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth helps you to calm down, giving you an upper hand in fighting the urge.
• Drink water. Do it slowly, taking small sips at a moment. This will help you beat the craving
• Do something else. This will distract you and helps your mind to focus at the task at hand, rather than smoking. Make sure that whatever thing you decide as your distraction does not trigger you into smoking.
So, make that bold step and improve your health, and of those close to you. Until next time, remember to make healthy choices.
Zimbabwe Medical Students Association (ZiMSA) is an association of medical students that mainly deals with reducing the incidence of diseases and their control by information dissemination. It encompasses students from the three medical schools in the country that is Midlands State University (MSU), University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and National University of Science and Technology (NUST).
Taona Tivafire is a Third Year medical student at MSU. You can check out ZiMSA Health Page for more health related topics.health