It may not be easy to kick a smoking habit, but knowing the science behind the addiction and having evidence-based cessation resources may help.

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Cigarettes were once marketed as “cool.” For decades they were seen in the hands of every celebrity.

Now we know that smoking has many negative health consequences. Yet despite knowing that smoking can lead to health conditions that will shorten their life span, people continue to smoke.

Why? Because for many people, smoking might not be just a habit — it might be a substance use disorder.

Stats on smoking cessation

It’s not easy to quit smoking — especially if it’s become a substance use disorder — but it can be done, and it is done every day.

Nearly 70% of adults who smoked in 2015 stated they wanted to quit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And annually, more than 50% of adults who smoke make an attempt to quit, per 2018 data from the CDC.

According to this data, 2.9 million adults successfully quit smoking in 2018. Of those people who have ever smoked, 3 in 5 eventually stop. Overall, since 2002, the number of former smokers is higher than the number of current smokers.

So be encouraged — there are several evidence-based approaches to kick the habit and live smoke-free.

Theodor Roosevelt is originally credited with saying, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.”

While many products can help you stop smoking, breaking a habit or tapering from dependence or substance use disorder can be challenging if you don’t know what’s really effective.

Do OTC products work to stop smoking?

Yes. Over-the-counter (OTC) products are purchasable to people ages 18 and older to manage both cravings and withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be a major roadblock to quitting, according to the CDC.

This type of assistance is called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). It involves providing your brain with controlled doses of nicotine without all the other harmful chemicals in cigarettes.

NRT options come in the form of:

  • skin patches
  • lozenges
  • chewing gum

Using an NRT approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may double the chances you quit smoking successfully.

Nicotine-free options are also currently available.

Does cold turkey work?

Quitting “cold turkey” means you quit smoking abruptly, without any assistance.

This method is often considered one of the most challenging, particularly for longtime smokers, because the sudden loss of nicotine can cause intense cravings and side effects.

However, some research from 2017 suggests it may boost your chances of long-term success.

Prescription

You might be prescribed a nicotine inhaler from your doctor as an approach to simulate the physical act of smoking with gradually tapering doses of nicotine, as monitored and adjusted by a physician.

A 2006 study found that it’s important to address the muscle memory involved in smoking to help you quit for good.

The inhaler, presently under the prescription name Nicotrol, allows nicotine to enter your throat and mouth. The directed use avoids nicotine penetrating your lungs.

Alternatives to cigarette smoking

Complementary practices sometimes used for smoking cessation include:

While many of these practices have promising preliminary research related to their use for smoking cessation, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that not enough data is available to definitively support their use.

Home remedies to quit smoking

A large part of smoking for many people is the comfort it brings as a result of habit. Home remedies to quit smoking often involve finding replacements for these moments throughout the day.

Instead of reaching for a cigarette, you can reach for a piece of sugar-free gum, for example.

Cigarette use may also reflect levels of stress in your life. Finding alternative stress-relief options may help, such as:

  • exercise
  • breathing techniques
  • improving sleep hygeine
  • jamming to your favorite music

Supplements to quit smoking

Two supplements sometimes used for smoking include:

  • Lobelia. Little to no evidence supporting the use of lobelia, also known as Indian tobacco, for smoking cessation has been found. Research from 2021 in rodents suggests it may offer protective properties against other harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke.
  • Cytisine. A plant-produced chemical with a similar draw as nicotine, cytosine has been shown in a handful of studies to help with smoking cessation. However, it has been associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s currently under FDA-guided development for approved use in the United States.

Apps to help stop smoking

Sometimes, the support you need to quit smoking is right at your fingertips. Popular apps to quit smoking include:

Psychology to stop smoking

If you live with a mental health condition, research from 2020 suggests you may have a greater chance of quitting smoking if you pair an NRT with therapy, such as:

Psychotherapy may be beneficial even if you aren’t living with a mental health condition. You may learn valuable stress management skills and might be able to make behavioral changes that help you quit smoking.

Addiction, including substance use disorder (SUD), isn’t limited to illegal drugs or prescription medications.

SUD can occur with any substance — including nicotine — that alters the brain’s natural balance when consumed, causing behavioral changes, misuse, or dependence.

It’s a naturally occurring chemical in tobacco and the primary addictive component of cigarettes.

Because of nicotine, what may have started as a habit for recreational use can morph into a SUD — despite the negative consequences.

Nicotine and the brain

Nicotine is quickly absorbed through the lungs and into the blood, reaching the brain in a matter of seconds.

Like other addictive substances, nicotine works by stimulating the brain’s production of dopamine. Dopamine is one of your “feel good” brain messengers (neurotransmitters). It can boost your mood, make you feel satisfied, and improve motivation.

Chemically, it tells the brain something good has happened and compels the brain to engage in that behavior again.

This is what’s known as your brain’s reward circuit, a behavior-reward loop intended to teach you what to do and what not to do.

How nicotine creates a substance use disorder

The dopamine-related effects of nicotine are short-lived, and the boost you may get from smoking a cigarette fades soon after you’re done smoking.

This is when many people reach for another cigarette. Repeated cigarette smoking causes tolerance. Tolerance is when your body craves increasingly more of the substance in the bloodstream to achieve the desired effects.

Tolerance can often lead to dependence — when you’re so accustomed to nicotine’s presence in the body that your system relies on it. Dependence can cause physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as headaches or irritability, if your body does not receive the substance.

SUD occurs when the need to smoke overrides everything else.

It’s a good thing you can challenge nicotine’s brain effects, dependence, or SUD with any combination of the above tips.

Smoking cigarettes can become more than just a habit. When your body gets used to functioning with nicotine, you may develop dependence or a SUD.

But you can quit smoking.

It might not be easy, but there are many tools available to help you along the way.