image of brain and lit up pathways

Mark Twain once said “quitting smoking is easy. I should know, I have done it a thousand times.” Many tobacco users may be able to relate to this statement as it often requires multiple attempts to kick the habit for good.

There are several reasons quitting smoking is challenging. First, it is legal for adults to use tobacco products; therefore, there is less legal risk with tobacco than with other illegal substances. Second, nicotine is available for purchase at many convenient locations. The third and most significant reason is due to nicotine’s effect on the brain. In fact, research has shown that nicotine is as addictive as alcohol, heroin, and cocaine and is often more difficult to quit.1

When an individual smokes a cigarette, nicotine is delivered to the brain within seven seconds. Once in the brain, nicotine activates seven different neurotransmitters – many of which are responsible for pleasure, appetite suppression, reduction of tension and anxiety and increased focus. These outcomes can be perceived as positive and rewarding which strengthens the addiction to nicotine. It is important that individuals find other ways to get these same benefits without the tobacco products when quitting. Quitting tobacco involves “retraining” the brain’s reward pathway as nicotine levels are reduced during the quit process.

The addiction to nicotine itself accounts for the biological component of addiction; however, addiction can happen on the psychological and cultural level as well. Tobacco can be used as a coping mechanism during challenging situations and as self-medication. Developing a dependence on tobacco during the tough times can make quitting even harder. Tobacco may also be promoted as part of social activities and norms.

Although quitting tobacco can be challenging, it can be done! According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than three out of five adults who have ever smoked cigarettes have quit. It is important to seek out support when quitting tobacco as those that attempt to quit on their own have a success rate of about 5-7%. Group sessions through Gulfcoast South AHEC and Tobacco Free Florida address all aspects of nicotine addiction, in addition to helping you develop a quit plan and identify your quit date.  Studies have shown that group sessions plus the use of Nicotine Replacement Therapy can more than double your chances of quitting and staying quit.2

Quitting tobacco for good comes with many benefits to your physical and psychological health.  These benefits are numerous and will greatly improve the quality of life for individuals who quit for many years to come.




2Tools to Quit: Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Cessation Program Participant Toolkit. Area Health Education Centers. 2018.