65,000. That’s the number of children dying from tobacco related illnesses each year.
1.2 Million. That’s the number of non-smoker deaths caused by second hand smoke every year.
8 Million. That’s the number of people tobacco kills every year.
266.8 Million. That’s the number of tobacco users in India.
Consumption of tobacco whether in the form of smoking of cigarettes/beedis or chewing hans/ghutka/kaddipudi/hogesoppu are habit forming and can be very difficult to let go due to the release of an addictive substance called nicotine from these tobacco products.
Nicotine conditions the brain to release a hormone called Dopamine, which makes the body feel good, happy and relaxed. However, the action of nicotine lasts only for approximately two hours, once this begins to wear off, the feel good factors from dopamine wear off too and that brings one back to feeling tired, stressed or lethargic.
When a person tries to stray away from their regular habit, the withdrawal symptoms feel a lot more intense and makes it difficult for one to go about their daily activities. The good news here is that these feelings do not last forever. With the support of family and friends, if you are willing to overcome the first few weeks of cessation, everything begins to get better soon.
Below is a list of withdrawal symptoms that one can expect, we will then guide you with tips to overcome these withdrawal symptoms
Headaches and dizziness – will be at its peak at 48 hours after complete cessation but will gradually reduce and become completely absent by 4 weeks. It is essential to stay hydrated, eat fruits and green leafy vegetables and try some breathing exercise during this period. Enrolling in a physical activity class such as a sport or the gym would be a great idea.
Disturbed sleep – will gradually reduce over 4 weeks. Avoid caffeinated drinks after lunch, stick to a sleeping schedule and try to meditate before going to bed.
Poor concentration – will gradually reduce over 10 weeks. Be patient with yourself, inform your boss/colleagues that you are trying to quit this habit and may find it difficult to be at your best performance level. Taking a walk or doing small exercises every few hours at work will help.
Irritability - will reduce by 4 – 10 weeks – Having a close friend or family to talk to and share the difficulties of your journey will help dealing with the mood swings. For family and friends – please be patient, avoid passing judgement or being too strong with your opinion as this may cause them to rebel and give up. Help them develop confidence in themselves and in you. Avoid confrontations or controversial topics that you suspect may cause some mental unrest as moments of stress result in high craving levels.
Restlessness – will reduce by 4 to 10 weeks – switching tasks and taking regular breaks at work to exercise or practicing few breathing exercises will help one stay relaxed.
Feeling low or depressed/disinterested – will improve over 4 – 10 weeks. Regular exercise for about 45 minutes a day will help release endorphins that can improve one’s mood and general health. It is very important to surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can distract you from these feelings of loneliness and help you overcome this hurdle. Playing games, watching comedy shows, movies and developing a healthy daily routine can help one battle these feelings. Remember, the first 4 weeks are the hardest, if one can resist the urge to give in even for a single puff or packet, the habit can be broken.
Constipation – will improve over 10 weeks. During active tobacco consumption, the bowel movements become dependent on the chemicals released by tobacco products. For bowel movements to return to normal, it is important to maintain a good diet with lots of fibrous fruits and vegetables included. Physical exercise will also help restore normal bodily function. If difficulty in passing stools persist, your doctor may help you with some laxatives to improve bowel movements.
Increased appetite – because nicotine reduces one’s appetite, after cessation, one may feel their appetite has increased, but this is the body’s way of returning to normal. It is thus essential to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine.
Craving – It is important to note that the craving for a cigarette or any other form of tobacco may last up to 10 weeks or more. Some people may never lose the craving but one can always train the mind to have a stronger will power to say NO to this craving. The first few weeks, it will be wise to avoid familiar routine or places of tobacco consumption such as coffee/tea break at work, social events that include drinking alcohol or other tobacco consumers as it may increase the urge. Distracting the mind by talking to a close friend or family member, playing a game or even going for a walk/run are good distraction strategies.
Always remember – the first 2-4 weeks are the hardest. Things get better gradually, surround yourself with supportive people, avoid places/people/events that may trigger the urge and practice a healthy diet and exercise routine.
If you are having difficulty coming up with a plan to quit or making up your mind to quit, contact a tobacco cessation expert who will be able to guide you through the process.
Department of Community Oncology
Sri Shankara Cancer Hospital and Research Centre