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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Alternatives for Giving Up Cigarettes

Have you tried unconventional approaches to stop smoking?

A Powerful Addiction continued...

Kiresuk agrees. "When you see what happens to people who are in the stages of withdrawal, you know that this is a very serious affliction," he says. Committed smokers, he says, are "willing to risk death to keep smoking."

Still, the alternative approaches to smoking cessation have a growing number of converts -- and they've turned some cigarette cravers into permanent ex-smokers. A primary benefit of most of these unconventional methods is their ability to empower people to change. "Individuals learn that they have control over their body that they didn't think they had before. It's a learning experience that prepares them to make changes like quitting smoking," says Kiresuk.

Hypnosis: Heightened Awareness

Along with weight management, smoking cessation is the most popular medical use of hypnosis. Using this technique, individuals enter a state of focused attention and concentration and become more susceptible to suggestions that weaken their craving for cigarettes and strengthen their will to stop.

However, when researchers at Ohio State University reviewed nearly five dozen studies of the use of hypnosis for smoking cessation, they concluded that while smokers participating in hypnosis programs were more successful in abstaining from cigarettes than smokers who did not use any stop-smoking intervention, this approach appeared to have no advantages over other popular stop-smoking programs.

"When you look specifically at the well-controlled clinical trials of hypnosis, they have not yet confirmed the benefits of this method," says Timothy Carmody, PhD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco and director of health psychology at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

At UCSF, Carmody and his co-researchers are conducting a carefully designed study to help definitively answer the question of whether hypnosis really works for smoking cessation. All participants are receiving nicotine patches (for eight weeks) and standard behavioral counseling, and half of them also have gone through self-hypnosis training sessions.

These individuals are taught to relax and enter an attentive, receptive state. "Then," says Carmody, "they're given suggestions for focusing on and strengthening their reasons for quitting smoking, and picturing themselves as nonsmokers effectively overcoming and reducing the experience of urges or cravings to smoke." The UCSF participants are being asked to practice the self-hypnosis technique at least once or twice a day, as well as use it as needed to successfully manage situations where they may experience a desire to smoke.

A unique component of the UCSF study is that it is not relying solely on patient self-reports of successful quitting. "Our patients who say they have quit provide a saliva sample, which is analyzed for the presence of cotinine," a chemical byproduct of nicotine, says Carmody.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

If you can mobilize vivid images in your mind at the drop of a cigarette ash, guided imagery may be a technique worth trying. Using this method, individuals enter a state of relaxation and then create mental pictures that help tap into their unconscious mind and reprogram the nervous system to resist the temptation to smoke.

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