Each year, millions of people vow to finally kick the cigarette habit, only to watch their optimistic expectations go up in smoke. But if they've tried and failed with conventional smoking cessation approaches -- whether it's the use of nicotine gum, counseling, or behavior modification -- they often look outside the mainstream, motivated by the hope that alternative medicine might finally deliver them from a life cluttered with cigarette packs and tarnished by nicotine-stained teeth.
But both smokers and health-care professionals agree that the challenge of quitting remains formidable.
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...
"When it comes to smoking cessation, there's no magic bullet -- I think everyone agrees with that," says Thomas Kiresuk, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and former director of the Center for Addiction and Alternative Medicine Research in Minneapolis, Minn. And while many alternative approaches are available -- ranging from acupuncture to guided imagery to self-hypnosis -- they're certainly no panacea, and for every smoker they help, they may leave another one frustrated and feeling a slow burn at the end of the day while they light up their next cigarette.
True, some people swear by the acupuncture needles stuck in their bodies or the nicotine-averse images implanted in their minds, crediting these unconventional techniques with thoughts of conquering their nicotine cravings for good. But when you examine all of the scientific research, the success stories are interspersed with the disappointments. "There's really nothing out there that has set itself apart as a winner in the treatment of smoking cessation," says Kiresuk, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
A Powerful Addiction
More than 50 million Americans smoke, and nearly 7 million more use smokeless tobacco. The numbers are even higher in other parts of the globe, with worldwide statistics showing that one out of three men and women over the age of 18 are smokers.
Without doubt, smoking remains a risky business. In the U.S. alone, tobacco kills more than 440,000 people each year, according to the CDC.
Yet most experts concur that no matter how strong your will for kicking the habit, there are some powerful, addictive forces plotting against you. Certainly, no single smoking-cessation technique works for everyone, and the failure rate can be discouraging, with most people quitting at least three times in the past before finally finding a way to stop for good.