If you have COPD, the most important step you can take to manage your condition is to quit smoking.
Your second most important step is to live in a smoke-free environment.
Whether you directly inhale smoke or get it from secondhand smoke, cigarette smoke accelerates the damage already going on in the lungs. Avoiding smoke slows the damage and actually slows the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In addition, when you quit smoking, you lower the risk for you and those around you of other serious health problems like heart disease.
Quitting cigarettes can make the difference between living longer and well - and not living at all. That’s especially true now that COPD is a part of your life. The good news is smoking is a risk factor you can control. Here’s how.
1. Set a Date to Quit Smoking
If you want to quit smoking, it helps to set a quit date, says Lindy Wolfenden, MD. Wolfenden is an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. She is also director of the outpatient pulmonary function laboratory at Emory Clinic. Setting a date to quit formalizes the attempt to quit. And while it may still take several attempts, the likelihood of permanently quitting goes up with each attempt you make.
When you choose a date to quit smoking, make it one when it is less likely you’ll have added stress. Stress is a major roadblock to any behavioral change. That’s especially true when you try to quit smoking.
Mark the quit date on your calendar. Experts recommend that as it approaches you stay mentally and emotionally focused on this date as a time for new beginnings and better health.
2. Expect to Feel Miserable
When you first quit smoking, it will be rough. You might feel miserable, irritable, even depressed. But according to the American Lung Association, nicotine clears out of the system quickly. It is usually in the undetectable range within 24 hours after someone quits.
For a few weeks, you might feel hungrier than normal. You may want to eat snacks all day long -- anything to occupy your hands and mouth. Once you get past the first few days, though, you will begin to feel more in control.
Keep sugarless gum or hard candy in your pocket during this time as a short-term “fix” when you crave a cigarette.
3. Remove Smoking Triggers
A smoking trigger is anything your brain has connected with smoking. Everyone’s smoking triggers are different. Your smoking trigger may be the smell of cigarette smoke, your morning coffee, or spotting an ashtray.
Wolfenden suggests removing tobacco from the house, porch, and car. “People should talk with their families about getting cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters out of the house. Remove anything that reminds them of smoking.”
4. Try Nicotine Replacements
“Nicotine replacements are medications that reduce a person’s craving for smoking,” says Neil Schachter, MD. Schachter is professor of pulmonary medicine and medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Center in New York. Nicotine replacement treatments (NRT), he says, include nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, and lozenges.
The replacement therapy works by putting nicotine in your system without the buzz that comes with smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy does not provide the same sensation as a cigarette. However, the treatments supply enough nicotine to halt withdrawal symptoms.
Chances for success are higher for those who use stop smoking aids, Schachter says. “Up to 50% of people who use nicotine replacement will stop smoking.”
Schachter recommends combining nicotine replacement products with other stop smoking measures. This may include group therapy or smoking cessation groups. “Once former smokers have gotten away from cigarettes, they can be weaned off the amount of nicotine in the replacement medication.”
If you want to try over-the-counter nicotine replacements, Schachter suggests getting professional advice first. Talk with your doctor or a support group. You can call the American Lung Association or the American Cancer Society to find out more and locate a group near you.
5. Ask About Drugs Approved by the FDA for Helping Smokers Quit
Schachter says there are two approved drugs available that can help people quit smoking. The first is Zyban. It’s also known as the antidepressant Wellbutrin. Zyban helps some people quit smoking by reducing nicotine cravings. It may also curb your appetite.
Schachter tells WebMD that Zyban was first used in inpatient psychiatric services. “Doctors noticed that patients with anxiety and depression who took Wellbutrin were able to quit smoking.” Today, Zyban is approved by the FDA as a prescription drug for smoking cessation.
Another prescription drug is Chantix. “It works indirectly on the metabolism of nicotine,” Schachter says. This helps overcome the chemical dependency. Chantix blocks the pleasant effects nicotine has on the brain.
Both drugs have a "black box" label warning indicating the most serious type of warning in prescription drug labeling. The warning includes reports on symptoms such as changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts (thinking about harming or killing oneself or planning or trying to do so) while taking either of these medications to stop smoking.
6. Know Why You Crave Cigarettes
If you are a smoker and have tried to quit before, you may feel guilty now. That’s especially true for people with illnesses such as COPD or heart disease. Schachter says you may be embarrassed by your failure to stop smoking and worry that others are judging you. Schachter also says, though, stop worrying. “Smokers are not self-destructive, lazy, or unmotivated,” he says. The cycle of quitting and then going back to smoking, he tells WebMD, is due to the powerful addiction which creates strong cravings for cigarettes. Smoking again after stopping is not a reflection on the character of the person trying to quit.
People smoke because they are addicted to nicotine, Schachter says. And the nicotine in cigarettes is every bit as addictive as heroin or cocaine. In his book Life and Breath, Schachter explains that anyone who smokes at least five to 10 cigarettes a day is considered addicted to cigarettes. And sometimes it takes a major catastrophe, such as hospitalization, for people to be able to stop smoking and stay ex-smokers.
Even those who have been able to stop smoking for years can get the urge to smoke again. And while no two smokers are alike, trying to quit smoking is guaranteed to increase feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
7. Get Support or Counseling
One way to deal with the stress of quitting -- and increase the odds that you’ll quit for good -- is to consider group or individual counseling, according to Wolfenden. And, she adds, always talk to your physician to get the best help you can.
Quitting Cigarettes for Good
So if cigarettes are so addictive, can you quit smoking for good? Yes. Anyone who wants to quit smoking has a 3% to 5% chance of quitting, says Schachter. Most patients who do quit smoking have to try several times. But each time you try to quit, you have another 5% chance.
Your chances of stopping cigarettes once and for all adds up over time. For example, say you’re on your fourth try to quit smoking. This means you may have a 20% chance of really making it:
- 4 stop smoking tries X 5% chance = 20% chance of making it
Schachter tells WebMD that the odds are increasingly in your favor the more attempts you make to quit smoking cigarettes. “But if you slip and have a cigarette, don’t beat yourself up,” Schachter says. Most smokers slip several times before they quit smoking for good. He firmly believes that most people who have the stamina to try to quit smoking, will quit smoking.