“Quitting smoking is easy …. I’ve done it a thousand times.”
Humorist Mark Twain is credited with that quote but this ‘funny’ statement is more of a sad reality. Indeed, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man – on par with heroin or cocaine
Frank Leone, MD, MS, medical director of Penn’s Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program, understands just how tough it is to quit from listening to the many patients he has helped over the years. “They describe feeling sad, angry, and hopeless … trapped between desperately wanting to stop and desperately wanting not to stop.”
Frank Leone, MD, helps keep Ann Carter on track in her struggle to quit smoking for good.
One of his patients who has been fighting this internal battle is Ann Carter. She started smoking later than most – at the age of 25 – but that hasn’t made it easier to quit. In the past seven years, she has been admitted to the ICU several times, suffering life-threatening consequences of smoking … but, still, she couldn’t quit.
It’s not that she hadn’t tried. After every discharge, she made a concerted effort – sometimes lasting as long as 90 days – but she’d always gone back. Carter was baffled; she knew her willpower was strong. Four years ago, she decided to give up drinking Pepsi and she did, no problem. When she learned she had diabetes, she stopped eating the desserts she loved. But “I couldn’t leave cigarettes alone.”
After her last discharge – in mid-October – she decided enough was enough. Her 4-year-old grandniece was living with her and Carter’s admissions to the ICU disrupted the child’s life. Plus she missed the walks they’d take. . .and she didn’t want to spend her life attached to an oxygen tank.
With Leone’s help – and a lot of perseverance – Carter made the decision to quit, for good. “I just don’t think I was committed enough to quitting in the past. I told myself I could do it but always kept a pack of cigarettes in the house. . .just in case.”
There’s no ‘cushion’ now. Whenever she get the urge to smoke, she distracts herself – washing dishes, writing in her journal, eating sunflower seeds – anything to keep her mind off smoking. “I know my triggers – first thing in the morning, after I eat, and when I’m stressed.”
Nicotine gum plays a significant role, Leone said. “Ann has to use it in response to cravings.” The brain looks for changes in the blood’s nicotine levels, to satisfy the craving. Nicotine gum “is a safe and non-addictive way to bump nicotine levels. We’re actually retraining the brain to respond to the gum, not cigarettes.” In addition, people who use this kind of nicotine replacement are twice as likely to stay off cigarettes as those who don’t.”
Carter has set short-term goals for not smoking. Her first was the Great American Smoke-Out. “Then it will be January 1. . .and my birthday in March.”
Her children and friends support her efforts – one of her girlfriends is even quitting at the same time. But it’s still hard. “It’s a strong fight. It hasn’t been easy. But I’m more committed than ever to doing this.”