Supporting a Smoker Who Wants to Stop
Giving up smoking is an immense challenge, both physically and mentally. In addition to patches, programs and positive thinking, the support of a loved one can be an instrumental part of the journey and increase chances of success.
Quitting is hard
Smoking is the No.1 preventable cause of death in the world. But tobacco may be as difficult to quit as cocaine or heroin. Why? Because it may be just as addictive, thanks to nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant found in tobacco that improves concentration and increases levels of dopamine, the "feel-good chemical" in the brain. So, while nicotine is wreaking havoc on your health—increasing blood pressure and heart rate, narrowing arteries, hardening arterial walls—it's ironically making you feel good.
The negative health impacts of smoking are well-known. A 2015 U.S. survey found 70 percent of smokers wanted to quit, and 55 percent had been actively trying to do so in the past year. But the same survey found that only 7 percent successfully quit for at least six to 12 months.
How you can help
If you're a smoker, don't smoke around someone who is trying to quit and never offer them a cigarette. Change your clothes and wash your hands so there's no odor of smoke when meeting with this friend. Avoid going together to bars and other gathering spots where temptations are higher. And maybe consider this your opportunity to stop, too.
Let your friend or loved one run the show. Do they want you to bring up the subject or not? Try to gauge their receptiveness for encouragement. Keep items on hand, such as candies to suck on, that are useful during withdrawal. They can let you know what's helpful for them and what's not. Check in regularly on their mental health. Quitting smoking is an incredibly taxing endeavor and can be an emotional roller coaster. Showing a willingness to listen without judgment is more helpful than you might realize.
Focus on minimizing stress, which can trigger the desire to smoke. Engage in healthy alternative activities to keep busy. Exercising together or picking up other hobbies can help distract and reduce fixation on their desire to smoke. Eat healthy foods together—a diet rich in plant foods and B vitamins may increase their ability to quit smoking. Encourage them to stay hydrated and get plenty of vitamin D.
Acknowledge your friend or loved one's progress regularly and always be their biggest cheerleader. Even reductions in the number of daily cigarettes or getting through an entire 24 hours without smoking are worth celebrating. Point out successes. Help them explore smoking- cessation programs, support groups and medications. If they're comfortable with it, be a part of their journey, such as joining them at support group meetings.
Always be positive. Don't be negative or put them down for struggling. Don't nag or blame. Don't doubt their ability to quit. Don't take irritable behavior personally—nicotine withdrawal is brutal. Don't offer unsolicited advice.
Remember that although picking up a cigarette may seem like a choice to you, the drive behind it is not a choice. Addiction isn't a switch that can be turned off. It's a terrible disease. Just as you wouldn't blame your partner for suffering from cancer, don't blame them for suffering from nicotine addiction. Hold them to task to do their utmost to beat it, but remember that the road is rarely smooth. If your partner or friend relapses and begins smoking weeks, months or even years down the line, keep up your support. Remind them of why they wanted to quit in the first place and help them get back on track. Always be kind and understanding. No one chooses to face addiction.
Smoking cessation is a long, bumpy road, and you'll never understand the struggle if you haven't gone through it yourself. But you can help a loved one beat the odds by being a support system, encouraging them and showing them their own strength.