One small cigarette, how much harm can it do? When most people start smoking at a young age, they never think that a short stick of tobacco could cause them any problems. The habit of smoking has been shown on screens for years, and many people grow up watching family members smoke. It is a socially acceptable habit. Did you realise that the first cigarette you have delivers nicotine to your brain in seconds? This releases chemicals in your brain called dopamine and noradrenaline. These chemicals produce feelings of pleasure and reduce the sensations of stress and anxiety. It is this quick reaction to our first cigarette that leads to over half the people who have one cigarette becoming regular smokers. The Trouble with Addiction When our brains find something that makes us feel better, they often want more. It is a simple survival behaviour. If we find something pleasurable, we want it again as our brain thinks it is good for us. As a socially acceptable habit, smoking is easy to access. It is thought that nicotine could be as addictive as heroin and cocaine, and therefore, when it’s time to quit smoking, nicotine may be just as challenging to wean yourself off as these illegal substances. With smoking cigarettes, it is not just the nicotine hit that causes addition. There are over 5000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. Cigarettes have been developed by tobacco companies to be addictive, so you buy more, it is a great business! Smoking is a complex behaviour, and people become addicted to smoking for a wide range of reasons. From helping to reduce stress or a habit formed over many years, quitting smoking is rarely as simple as just deciding one day you will stop. Stress In our everyday lives, we often experience stress, and this can affect our mental health. From getting stuck in traffic, to a bad day at work or a family argument, life is stressful. As nicotine creates a quick response in our brains to help improve our mood, it is an easy solution to help us feel less stressed. However, smoking only reduces feelings of stress in the short term. It does not deal with the fact about why we felt stressed. As regular doses of nicotine cause chemical changes in the brain, you feel withdrawal symptoms and maybe even more stressed. So, you need to smoke another cigarette. Once you are addicted to smoking your body craves the benefits of nicotine, and when you feel stressed, it is the first thing you reach for. If you are dealing with stress in your life by smoking, you are more than likely avoiding any issues, and they can begin to build up. Anxiety and Depression Long term stress that is not dealt with can then lead to anxiety and depression. As people can feel more relaxed when smoking, they feel it can help with the symptoms of anxiety. Because the effects of nicotine are short term, its impact on anxiety can make it worse. When you stop smoking your body craves more, which increases your anxiety levels and you get stuck in an addictive loop. As nicotine stimulates the production of the chemical dopamine in the brain, smoking rates are high in people with depression. In long term smokers, the body stops producing dopamine naturally and becomes reliant on nicotine to stimulate the production of the chemical. Therefore, it can be very hard for people with depression to quit smoking. If It is So Hard to Quit Smoking, Why Bother? The health benefits of stopping smoking are well documented. Within 2 hours of quitting, your circulation improves, and after only 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste start to increase. There is a great amount of support and choice for quitting smoking, and research shows you are more successful if you don’t try and go it alone. The NHS has a stop smoking support service that is the best place to start. To help your body start to cope with the change of habit, it can help to use a nicotine replacement therapy such as gum, patches or vaping. Many people who quit find that tobacco eliquids are especially helpful as they have a similar taste to cigarettes. This can make the early transition period from smoking to vaping a little easier. As you start to work on tackling your smoking habit, you can look to improve other areas of your life. You may want to work with a counsellor on your mental health or do more exercise. So yes, quitting smoking is hard but working towards a healthier life is worth it. Good luck.