Why is it important to stop smoking?
Many people with COPD have already been able to stop smoking. If that is you, congratulations!
Stopping smoking is important because it is the single most important step in slowing the progression of COPD.
Tobacco smoking is responsible for over 19,000 deaths in Australia each year and is widely regarded as the most preventable cause of chronic conditions.
Adapted from Fletcher C. Peto R, Br Med J 1977; 1: 1645-8.
What is nicotine addiction?
Nicotine addiction is recognised as a medical condition, rather than a habit.
As such, people who were once heavily addicted to nicotine have the potential to start smoking again.
People who stop smoking still have the receptors in their brains that were once ‘hooked on’ nicotine.
These receptors lay dormant, waiting to be turned on again by just one cigarette. If these receptors are turned on again, the addiction cycle can re-start.
Each time a person quits they can experience the unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. These symptoms include strong cravings, anxiety, agitation and depression.
Although many ex-smokers report being able to remember how much they enjoyed smoking, the actual physical addiction to nicotine is no longer active. Fortunately, just having these thoughts doesn’t mean you will have cravings or urges to smoke.
The important message for many ex-smokers is that stopping smoking is a lifelong process, rather than an isolated event. For the majority of smokers who were once heavily nicotine-dependent, the potential for relapse continues to be a lifelong possibility.
Unfortunately, no scientifically proven method to prevent relapse currently exists. A significant number of ex-smokers relapse even after they have not smoked for more than one year.
Don’t be tempted to try ‘just one cigarette’ to see if you still like smoking. Most ex-smokers will still like smoking if they try it. There is a high risk that ‘just one’ cigarette could cause you to start smoking again.
Why shouldn't you use smoking to cope with stress?
Stressful events can cause ex-smokers to start smoking again. We are all different and some of us will require assistance, counselling or support to help cope with life’s difficulties. These difficulties can include the loss of a loved one, anxiety regarding family members, financial stress or sometimes stress for no particular reason.
The nicotine delivered in tobacco smoke can act like an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug. When people return to smoking after a stressful event, they are either deliberately or inadvertently using nicotine as a medicine. However, the carbon monoxide, tar and cocktail of chemicals that are also contained in the tobacco smoke continue to damage the person’s lungs and entire body.
If you are having difficulty coping with a stressful event, seek professional assistance from your GP, who can make referrals to counsellors or psychologists. The option of prescribed anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medicines can also be discussed.