On some level most smokers feel that their nicotine addiction has trapped them and that successfully exiting the trap will be arduous. They approach the idea of quitting with trepidation and look for what they think will be the easiest, least painful route to freedom. Sometimes, smokers feel that cutting down on their smoking gradually with the aim of eventually stopping completely is the best way to do it: after all, it will avoid the nasty physical withdrawal, won’t it?
The reality of physical withdrawal
This is sort of true: reducing the dose of nicotine over time will minimize any unpleasant withdrawal physical withdrawal symptoms. But how helpful is this actually? Realistically, the physical withdrawal from nicotine is unlikely to cause serious physical symptoms even in the heaviest of smokers. It would be fair to expect a headache or two, a bit of disrupted sleep, some slight body temperature change, some mild constipation and perhaps a small migraine in those who are prone. And although this doesn’t sound like too much of a laugh, it realistically isn’t going to stop people functioning and isn’t certainly any worse than a cold. Nicotine just doesn’t have the bio-chemical agency to do anything more to you than that And yet, as a hypnotherapist to stop smoking, I see that people are willing to commit to a protracted tapering schedule in the hope of desperately avoiding it. Surely, something else is going on?
The trickier, psychological component
Nicotine’s greatest, nastiest trick is a psychological one. By subtly but profoundly interfering with the way the brain reads its own emotions, it convinces its user that it is an essential part of their life that they couldn’t, and shouldn’t, try to live without. It promises the smoker a soft buffer to difficult experiences – the kind that come from the outside as well as the private ones from within. And it will provide this to you easily, forever – as long as you continue to smoke.
Smokers are therefore disturbed and upset by the prospect of losing this reliable, helpful friend but the more rational, logical part of them mistakenly interprets this as the body preparing for a horrible physical withdrawal. They frantically look for ways around this and land on the idea of tapering as a possible solution. Sometimes they combine it with nicotine replacements therapies like patches or gum.
Cutting down vs. cold turkey
Since someone who is cutting down is still actively smoking, it makes it so much easier to smoke more, rather than less, and undermine the whole process by regularly ‘cheating’ on your allowed nicotine amount. Can you honestly see yourself sticking to the tapering schedule diligently? Can you see yourself, for example, after a few drinks, deciding not to have a second cigarette in the smoking area with everyone on the basis that ‘you’re only allowed one’? It would be like stepping through a door that is already open. Unfortunately, lots of smokers who attempt this never make it to the finish line.
On the other hand, a lot of smokers recognize this about their addiction and choose instead to go ‘cold turkey’. Although physical withdrawal can be more intense, the decision to stop is a resolute closing of the nicotine door: the smoker must make a conscious decision to ignore the promise they made to themselves if they smoke again, which acts as a deterrent as the smoker wants to stay on track with their goal. These two methods have long been seen as the only two options for quitting, and there is some scientific debate about whether or not the ‘cutting-down-slowly’ crew are any more likely to succeed over those who go cold turkey.
What the science says
Multiple studies have attempted to answer the question about whether cold turkey and will power is any better at getting smokers to quit for good than gradually cutting down their smoking, and the data is still the subject of meta-analysis. The results, it seems, aren’t meaningful enough to be conclusive: the result is different between different demographics and there is no obvious ‘winner’, with a slight overall leaning towards ‘cold turkey’ in some instances – I speculate, because of the additional psychological ‘barrier’ of will power. So if you want to quit using either of these methods then you’ll probably have more success doing whichever method you feel naturally drawn to.
So there’s no way that isn’t hard work?
Whoah, hold on!
Although cold turkey only has a slightly higher success rate than stopping smoking gradually, it still doesn’t address the psychological and emotional component of nicotine addiction! Smokers who try to quit using either method are leaving themselves vulnerable to nicotine’s nasty psychological tricks – it’s just that those who cut down are more likely to fall for them sooner and more quickly. Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend either method: neither one addresses the root cause of smoking!
If you want to quit and feel unsatisfied with the options available to you then you might well look to slightly less conventional methods. This might include seeing a hypnotherapist to stop smoking, for example. But please know this: it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get a drastically different approach going to a hypnotherapist. It’s all about what the hypnotherapist uses the hypnosis for, not the hypnosis itself. You might find yourself seeing a hypnotherapist who tries to strengthen your will power as you go cold turkey, or even one who aims to increase your self-belief as you reduce your smoking gradually over a number of sessions. That’s not me, though.
In my hypnotherapy to stop smoking sessions, I aim to understand and address the root cause of your smoking in order to properly address it so you no longer feel any kind of subconscious attraction to nicotine – in one session. When successful, this removes the need for any ‘method’: no need to gradually cut down and no need to endure the tough, tempting voice if you quit cold turkey. There is no need to think of it in terms of ‘cold turkey’ or ‘gradually cutting down’ – the desire to smoke will be gone and there will be no tough ‘withdrawal’. Just your body getting back to baseline in its own way, in its own time. The smoker loses the desire to smoke and is free to live a happy, healthy life. Doesn’t that sound much better?
Thanks for reading! If you found this helpful, you might also be interested in my article about why alcohol sometimes makes people want to smoke or learn about exactly what nicotine does to your heart rate or your DNA. I’ve also written about how family psychodynamics can influence nicotine addiction and explored some of the ways nicotine create subtle, cognitive fallacies.
If you’d like to discuss the possibility of working with me, then the first step is to book a Discovery call so we can work out whether we would be a good fit to work together.