Smoking can be a hard habit to kill. Apparently, it’s harder to kill than you. Many smokers have vowed one way or another to stop the habit by kicking it off stick by stick thinking this is the right way to do it. But according to experts, this method doesn’t work. The best way to kick the habit is to go cold turkey.

“It’s called de-sensitization,” said Dr. Gerard Supangan, resident doctor from PhilCare, “The more our stress level grows, the more we smoke. And the more we smoke, the more our body becomes tolerant of the nicotine,” he added.

However unhealthy, it is agreed that nicotine does have a stabilizing effect on the body. It latches to a receptor called acetylcholine which triggers a secretion of dopamine. Dopamine affects brain processes that control movement, emotional response, the ability to experience pleasure and pain. It also helps in lessening anxiety and smokers experience psychological relaxation.

Technically, when these receptors become overstimulated by the increase in dopamine,the neurons become less sensitive to dopamine’s effect.  With less sensitivity to dopamine, the smoker who is looking for the same level of psychological relaxation will start to find ways to take in more nicotine to generate the same effect.  This translates to more cigarette sticks which support the statement that smoking can only lead to more smoking.  Hence, the strategy of quitting smoking by cutting down gradually will not work.

“Like I said, the more we take in, the more our body becomes tolerant of its effects. The less we feel, the more we try to consume to make-up for the sensation,” said Supangan.

In the recent survey commissioned by PhilCare called the PhilCare Wellness Index, the first in the country that covered 1,200 respondents from key cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, Filipinos smoke an average of 10 sticks per day.

Those who exceed the average number are those we consider as  chronic smokers.

“There is pleasure in the habit. But once it becomes an addiction that’s where the bigger problem begins. Addiction is involuntary. The desire becomes a need,” Supangan says.

Supangan adds that a physician’s guidance during this period of adjustment will help the smoker.  The physician can act as a counselor who should provide encouragement, motivation and useful tips to resist the urge.. Once the hopeful quitter gets through the first four weeks without a stick, everything from there should be smoother sailing.

“Nicotine patches and other so called alternatives won’t help. Their effect is not at par with the actual cigarette, which may cause you to want more instead of giving it up. If you want to break the habit, you have to stop it altogether. There will be instances when the user may experience bouts of anxiety and be prone to irritation; these are part of the withdrawal symptoms. Some experience recurrent bouts of cough and sore throat.  We have to explain that this is actually the mechanism of our body to rid to nicotine that has accumulated in our lungs, trying to cough it out. But with powerful determination and a great support group, the desire to quit can be a reality.”