Smoking is one of the single most health-destroying activities, yet many people find they simply cannot quit the habit. According to the American Cancer Society, quitting smoking is the single most important step many people can take to avoid early death and debilitating disease.

However, millions of people still smoke even though they know the health risks and they really want to quit. Why is it so hard to quit smoking?

Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine, the drug found in cigarette smoke, has been said to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. While smokers may not believe this is true, what is a fact is that many people who try to quit will start smoking again within six months.

Nicotine has several immediate effects on the body, but the most important one is that it creates a false impression of calm and happiness. Because the dosage of nicotine in each cigarette is relatively small, smokers must give their body nicotine charges on a regular basis. This is what causes the physical craving for a cigarette 15 to 30 minutes after a smoke.

Psychological Addiction

However, the real addictive power of smoking is not only found in nicotine. Nicotine leaves the body about four days after quitting, so if you have quit for a week or more you no longer have the nicotine addiction to blame. Why is it that people who have been cigarette-free for months suddenly pick them back up?

There are several psychological reasons why it is hard to kick the smoking habit. First, smoking is associated with certain activities. Most smokers find it very difficult to give up the cigarette after a meal, along with an alcoholic beverage, or even just before bed or when first arising. Cigarette smokers also tend to turn to the habit when they are stressed, craving that sense of calm that nicotine imparts.

Ultimately, smoking is a habit, and like any habit specific actions must be taken to break the cycle and develop new habits. Here are some tips to think about if you are ready to quit smoking for good.

Get Support

The first and most important rule of quitting smoking is that it can be done more easily with the help of others. Inform your family and friends that you want to quit and ask for their support. You may be grouchy or irritable for a few days or weeks after quitting; ask them to be understanding and to remind you of your goals. You should also investigate support from organizations such as the American Lung Association or support groups in your area. Talking with others who are also kicking the habit can be very beneficial when you feel the urge to smoke.

Get Your Doctor Involved

Talk with your doctor about your desire to quit. Drugs are available to help you, although not everyone can use these drugs safely. It is very important that you do not use any drugs without your doctor’s approval. Your doctor may also make other suggestions or guide you to support groups who can help.

Make a Plan

Having a plan to quit smoking is essential. Very few people who lay cigarettes down on an impulse are able to keep themselves from smoking again at some point. Your plan should include safety measures for when you feel those cravings coming on. Substitute some other activity you enjoy, such as walking, riding your bike, or engaging in your favorite hobby. The alternate activity should be something you enjoy so that you look forward to it as a reward for keeping your promise not to smoke.

Reward Yourself

You will be saving money as well as improving your health, so why not have a goal and reward yourself for your efforts? Many people take the money they would have used to buy cigarettes and put it into a savings account each week, then take a vacation with the money they have saved. You might buy yourself some new outfits or that exercise equipment you wanted. Quitting smoking is not easy, so reward your effort and hard work.

Make Small Goals and Stick to Them

While some people advocate quitting “cold turkey,” another school of thought is that any number of cigarettes today that is less than you smoked yesterday is an accomplishment. If you choose the gradual reduction method of quitting, make a goal and stick to it each day. For example, if you were smoking a pack a day and now smoke half a pack, recognize that this is a step in the right direction and continue on to a quarter of a pack, eventually removing the habit from your life. Begin substituting other activities for smoking in your daily life.

Watch Your Diet

Many people are afraid to stop smoking because they believe they will gain weight. A sensible diet packed with nutrient-rich foods is the best way to avoid weight gain and make your body feel better during this difficult time.

For many people, quitting smoking is one of the hardest things they will ever have to do, but the rewards are well worth the effort. By giving yourself credit for good effort and staying motivated about your goal, you can and will kick the smoking habit.