Pretty much anyone who smokes knows that it’s important to quit. Smoking affects so many aspects of your health, and it definitely has an impact on your diabetes management. But, according to the website Smokefree.gov, “Many ex-smokers say quitting was the hardest thing they ever did.” However, millions of Americans have quit smoking, so it can be done. Read on to learn the whys and hows of quitting smoking, and find out what’s worked for others.
Think back to when you started smoking. Maybe you were a teenager or a young adult. Maybe you had friends or parents who smoked. You might have seen ads, TV shows, or movies that glamorized smoking. But once you start to smoke, it’s all too easy to get hooked, thanks to nicotine, an addictive substance found in tobacco. Nicotine can make you feel good, and it promotes relaxation and stress relief. It acts on the nervous system and the brain to boost levels of dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical.
The effects of nicotine wear off quickly, though, which is why someone who smokes feels the urge to light up frequently. Over time, the body starts to build up a tolerance, and more nicotine is needed to prevent feeling irritable or edgy, setting in motion a vicious cycle of dependency. If you smoke, chances are you reach for a cigarette when you’re stressed out, anxious, or upset. Smoking provides quick relief and helps you calm down.
According to the American Cancer Society, two out of three smokers want to quit, and half try to quit every year, but most won’t succeed without help. Nicotine causes a physical and emotional dependence that’s tough to break. Research shows that it’s easier to stop using hard-core drugs, such as cocaine, than it is to stop smoking. And going through nicotine withdrawal, without help, is challenging, causing unpleasant symptoms.
If smoking makes you feel good, why bother to stop? You probably know a lot of the reasons. Apart from the cost, the smell on your clothes and in your home or car, and the toll it can take on your appearance, there are some very real and serious health effects of smoking, which include:
• Heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
• Lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
• Cancers of the lung, bladder, colon, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and mouth
• Gum disease and tooth loss
• Crohn’s disease
• Eye damage
• Fertility problems
In fact, smoking can harm pretty much every organ or organ system in the body. Smoking can harm those around you, too. Exposure to secondhand smoke raises the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and breathing problems in your family and friends. Babies whose mothers smoke have a higher risk of developing asthma and are more likely to have ear infections and respiratory infections compared to babies of non-smoking mothers.
People who have diabetes and who smoke are at risk for compounded health issues. These include:
• Heart and kidney disease
• Poor circulation, which can lead to infection and amputation
• Eye disease
• Nerve damage
In addition, smoking can cause insulin resistance. In fact, smoking is considered to be a risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes; smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to get Type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. If you have Type 2 diabetes, you may find that smoking can lead to higher blood sugars, and/or make it harder to manage blood sugars. Blood sugars that are uncontrolled can, over time, raise your risk of diabetes complications, including heart, eye, kidney, and nerve disease.
If you’re ready to quit smoking, it helps to come up with a plan for how to stop. There are two main ways to quit: go “cold turkey” or gradually stop. Stopping smoking abruptly may seem like torture, but surprisingly, a study out of the University of Oxford, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that smokers who stopped smoking on their “quit date” did 25% better than the gradual-cessation group. Both groups had access to counseling and nicotine patches and gum.
If the thought of going cold turkey gives you the shivers, here are other tried and true ways to help you kick the habit once and for all. Keep in mind that it may take a few tries before you’re successful. Try not to let that stop you. Each attempt brings you closer to success.
Make a plan and talk with your doctor. When you feel ready, think about when and how you will stop smoking. It’s a good idea to come up with a “quit date.” Also, talking with your doctor is a smart idea, as you can both discuss the best way for you to quit and how quitting smoking can affect your diabetes.
Get ready for quit day. Pick a day not too far off in the future to stop. Throw away your cigarettes and ashtrays. Stock up on sugar-free gum or candy, toothpicks, or even baby carrots to munch on when you get the urge to smoke. Tell a family member or friend about your plan and to cheer you on.
Rethink your routine. Smoking is often paired with certain activities in your life, such as the first cup of morning coffee or taking a break at work. Decide what you’ll do to break the association. In addition, you’ll need to rethink your social routines, such as spending time with people who smoke.
Learn how to manage the urge to smoke. Yes, day one will likely be hard. Again, having a game plan will help. Drinking water, chewing gum, deep breathing, squeezing a stress ball, and switching up your routine will help. Keep busy to help distract you until the urge to smoke goes away.
Consider using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT comes in the form of patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, and inhalers (the last two are by prescription). NRT provides a controlled amount of nicotine to help you gradually decrease your dependence. NRT does have side effects, including dizziness, nausea, and rapid heartbeat.
Look into other medications. Bupropion (brand name Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix) are non-nicotine prescription drugs that help reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal. They’re used, initially, for 12 weeks, but can be used for longer. Side effects include changes in mood and behavior, and possibly suicidal thoughts.
Try alternative therapies. Some people find acupuncture, hypnosis, laser therapy, herbal supplements, yoga, and meditation to be helpful. Keep in mind that these methods don’t have much evidence behind them.
Sign up for counseling and support. Meeting with a therapist and/or joining a smoking cessation support group can be helpful. In-person, phone, or online sessions are options, depending on your preference and your schedule.
Get help with a smoke-free app. There are several smartphone apps that can give you support on your journey to quit and help you monitor your progress. QuitGuide, quitSTART, Craving to Quit, Kwit, and Smoke Free are a few recommended apps. Some are free, and some have a fee.
Quitting smoking can be daunting, and chances are you’ll need some help along the way. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available. Check out the following:
• 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669)
• Smokefree.gov (en Español)
• Smokefree.gov (for women)
• CDC resources
• LiveHelp, an online assistance program
Once you quit smoking, you’ll start to reap the benefits right away. You’ll look and feel better, your blood pressure and heart rate will be lower, your lung function will improve, your immune system will recover, and even your amount of belly fat will drop. It’s pretty amazing how soon you’ll benefit.
When it comes to your diabetes, you may find that your blood sugar levels don’t drop quite as quickly, or they may even rise a bit. This may be due to the tendency to gain a little weight after you quit smoking. Be prepared: Come up with a healthy eating plan and make sure to fit physical activity into your routine. Seek help from a dietitian or certified diabetes educator to help you manage your weight and manage your diabetes.
Want to learn more about diabetes and smoking? Read “Why Stop Smoking?” and “How Much Do You Know About Smoking?”
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