If you’re a smoker, you know the drill. Finish a meal and you suddenly feel a powerful craving for a cigarette. Get up from your desk to take a break and all at once you want to light up. Certain times of the day, certain places, and even particular foods can spark a strong urge to smoke.
Experts call these triggers. “For long-time smokers, daily life can be filled with triggers,” says Steven Schroeder, MD, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
Withdrawal from nicotine, an addictive drug found in tobacco, is characterized by symptoms that include headaches, anxiety, nausea, and cravings for more tobacco. Nicotine creates a chemical dependency so that the body develops a need for a certain level of nicotine at all times. Unless that level is maintained -- by smoking or chewing tobacco -- your body will begin to go through withdrawal.
For tobacco users trying to quit, symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine are unpleasant and stressful -- but...
Drinking tea or coffee, sitting down to a cocktail or glass of wine, driving in the car, getting up during intermission at a concert, checking email, feeling bored, talking on the telephone -- all of them can trigger a powerful urge to smoke. Being angry or under stress can trigger a craving to smoke. But even positive feelings of happiness or pleasure can be triggers.
Learn to Recognize Your Own Smoking Triggers
Triggers make it tough for smokers to quit. But once you recognize your own personal smoking triggers, you can use a few simple strategies to avoid or defuse them before they wear down your resolve. Before your quit date, keep a journal for several days or a week. Use a small notebook that you can easily carry with you. Every time you light a cigarette, record:
The time of day
How intense your craving feels (on a scale of 1 to 5)
What you’re doing at that moment
Where you are
Who you’re with
How you feel (happy, stressed, bored, etc.)
Be as precise in your notes as possible. Keep your journal for at least one weekday and one weekend day, since your routine is likely to be different on those days. Once you’re done, review your journal. Make a list of the most powerful triggers, based on the intensity of your craving. List the triggers that occur most frequently. Note places, people, situations, and moods that set off a craving to smoke.
Defuse Smoking Triggers in Advance
Triggers are a form of conditioned response. If you’re used to smoking a cigarette during a coffee break, for example, you begin to associate even the smell of coffee with smoking.