The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.
– Samuel Johnson
When people say they get pleasure from smoking, it is because of the undesirable feeling that is allayed, by getting the fix that prevents them from getting withdrawal symptoms. It feels good to have a cigarette after going without one for a long time. Pure bliss, but there is more pleasure derived from being free of an addiction, than is gained from feeding an addiction. Nicotine’s desirability is enhanced, because of its dual action properties. It is used to both stimulate and relax.
At the beginning
When someone first indulges in smoking, changes begin to happen in the brain. There is a chemical called acetylcholine, which is used in the neurotransmission, that helps different parts of the brain communicate with each other.
The nicotine molecule has a similar shape to the acetylcholine molecule and fits into the places where acetylcholine would normally go. It is a bit like an invasive species taking over an environment, or like squatters moving into a building.
Where acetylcholine played an important part in transferring information, the process now uses nicotine instead. One of the effects of nicotine cessation is finding it hard to concentrate on a task. When smokers need extra concentration, they light up a cigarette. Acetylcholine is replenished naturally, but nicotine has to be constantly reintroduced into the system by inhalation.
The biological system that maintains a constant environment within the body is called homeostasis. It controls things like fluid balance and body temperature. It also regulates acid and alkali levels. If there are changes to the usual equilibrium, the homeostatic process rebalances the difference.
Smoking raises the body’s acidic level, therefor, if a smoker does not have their usual intake of chemicals, homeostasis prompts the individual to light up. If someone normally smokes ten or twenty cigarettes a day, then that is the amount they will need each day, to maintain a constant internal balance.
The part of the body that sends a message to the brain to light up, is the bladder. A good example of this, is when a smoker drinks tea, or even more so, drinks pints of beer, the bladder is flushed and the acidic level changes from its usual balance and needs to be topped-up, resulting in an increased nicotine intake.
A tactic that can be beneficial to someone who stops smoking, is to drink a citric acid drink like orange juice. This helps to keep the acidic level in the bladder at a sufficient level, and deceive the homeostatic process, to prevent it sending instructions to the brain to light up. This is paradoxical, because too much juice will flush the bladder.
Long term success
Although there are numerous aids to help quit smoking, going cold-turkey produces a greater number of long-term successes, in comparison to using methods that help smokers quit.
Acetylcholine is not just present in the brain, but is used in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. So, when such an important chemical is replaced by nicotine, the withdrawal is difficult to cope with and the recovery period can vary while the body cleans out the harmful chemicals.
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know, because I’ve done it thousands of times.
– Mark Twain