Why is nicotine so addictive?

Nicotine is addictive because, like all other addictive drugs, it activates your brain's reward system. When you smoke, the nicotine from the cigarette absorbs quickly and within 10 seconds is affecting your brain. While in your brain, nicotine increases the levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger that stimulates the pleasure and reward system, causing a satisfying, positive feeling.

However, the effects of nicotine are short-lived, and as nicotine levels in the body decrease, so do the satisfying and positive feelings. To keep the same sensations, you need to smoke more nicotine. As levels of nicotine drop, you will also start to experience the unpleasant symptoms of nicotine withdrawal such as irritability, headaches, and anxiety. To relieve withdrawal symptoms, you need to smoke more - and before you know it you're addicted.

I've tried several times to stop smoking and can't. Will I ever be able to quit?

Don't be discouraged! Most smokers take several tries to quit before they finally succeed. With each attempt to quit, you learn more about what works for you - and what doesn't work, of course. The trick is to take what you learn each time you try to quit and incorporate it into your next attempt. It's a process some refer to as "turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones."

If you relapse, consider talking to your doctor or another health care professional to try to figure out what triggered your relapse, what you might not have considered, and how you might better prepare for the next time. Keep in mind that relapsing is a natural part of the quitting process.

Is cold turkey the best method for quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking cold turkey works for some. And research does show that most smokers end up quitting on their own - without any help or medication. But the highest success rates come from combining education and behavioural changes with supportive counselling. It is also helpful to use medication during the time the brain needs to readjust to life without nicotine.

That said, there is no "best" or "right" way to quit smoking. You may have to quit several times before you're done with smoking for good, but each time you'll learn more about what works for you.

How do I keep my kids from smoking?

A child or teenager may start smoking for lots of different reasons, but the most common reason? Peer influence. As a parent, you can edge out peer pressure by being a good role model yourself. If you smoke, try quitting. At the very least, avoid smoking in front of your children. And talk to your kids about your smoking and how risky it really is.

Many kids and teens mistakenly assume that smoking is okay if one or more of their parents smoke. Don't leave things to chance. Even if you don't smoke, it's important for parents and caregivers to talk openly about the risk of smoking and to keep the dialogue going throughout the teen years.

Will I gain weight when I quit smoking?

This is a common worry among people thinking about quitting. And it does happen to some "quitters." It makes sense, too, since smoking can suppress your appetite and may boost your metabolism. But not all who quit gain weight, and others actually report weight loss. Among those who do gain weight, most gain 8 to 13 pounds.

If you're concerned about gaining weight as you quit, be sure to add in exercise and follow a healthy eating plan.

I want to quit smoking. What should I do now to get started?

Quitting smoking isn't easy, but you can improve your chances by preparing well. One of the simplest first steps is to pick a quit date. Once you have a goal date in mind, you can get prepared.

Afraid you might waver on your way? Make a list of the pros and cons of quitting smoking and refer back to it when you need a reminder. Strategize ways to handle nicotine cravings and roadblocks you might encounter while try to quit.

Set up a support system, including friends, family members, or your doctor. These go-to cheerleaders can help you when you feel like you need a cigarette.

What's the best thing to do when a craving hits?

Take comfort in the fact that cravings are at their worst during the first 4 to 5 days after you quit. When a craving hits, the first trick is to try to delay. See if the craving will pass. Distract yourself with an activity that you don't associate with smoking or that you can't do while smoking (e.g., have a shower, exercise). Other ideas: call a friend, eat a hard candy, or go for a quick walk for fresh air.

When is the best time to quit smoking?

Any time is a good time to quit smoking! Still, aim to start this process at a time when you're not too stressed (after a breakup, when you're moving or starting a new job) or when you're likely to face lots of temptations to smoke (holidays, vacation, parties).

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team