Getting a Grip on Your Cigarette Smoking

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CII, No. 2February, 2002

Jackelyn S. Frost, CSW

The events of Sept. 11, anthrax scares and fears of bioterrorism have created stress for millions of Americans, and have caused many people to retreat to unhealthy, over-indulging behavior such as smoking. The stress of the holiday season may have compounded this tendency. To get back to normalcy, it’s crucial to focus on returning to healthier behaviors.

A recent survey showed that, since Sept. 11, approximately one-third of all current smokers in the United States have started smoking more cigarettes and more than 5 percent of former smokers have picked up their cigarettes again. The survey was commissioned by the American Cancer Society and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare. On the positive side, 78 percent of the people surveyed who have changed their smoking habits for the worse are now interested in quitting.

After years of smoking, your body develops a tolerance for and dependency on the chemicals in cigarette smoke. In some cases, this may affect how your body processes certain medications. If you are currently taking any prescription drugs, especially psychopharmacological medications, consult your physician before you stop smoking.

Being well prepared before you quit is crucial to success. A little preparation can ease the difficulty of giving up cigarettes. Reducing your nicotine intake before you quit will lessen withdrawal symptoms. Research also has shown that smokers have a greater chance of staying smoke-free when they have a support system to help keep them motivated. Additionally, smokers reportedly double their chances of quitting successfully if they use an aid such as Nicorette® nicotine gum or the NicoDerm® CQ® nicotine patch.

Quitting smoking is a big life change. Drawing a line between your life as a smoker and your new life as a non-smoker can not only make quitting easier, but also makes it more likely that you will remain smoke free. Here are some ways to draw that line, and make a break from the past:

  • Throw away all your cigarettes and ashtrays. Search every place you might be keeping them and be sure to discard them all.
  • Get the car cleaned if it smells like smoke.
  • Get your clothes cleaned so they don’t smell like smoke. You may not be able to smell it now, but you will when you quit.

Many things can help you quit the habit:

  • Drinking a lot of fluids helps to flush nicotine from your system and ward off some withdrawal symptoms.
  • Drink less coffee. The caffeine in coffee becomes more potent when you stop smoking. This can lead to nervousness and the jitters. You can cut back the number of cups you drink each day, or dilute your intake by adding some decaf to each cup.
  • Exercising is also very important while you are giving up cigarettes. Not only will it make it easier to control your weight, it will also give you more energy and keep your mind off smoking.
  • Get all the support you can from your friends and family. Let them know that you are quitting and that you want their help.


Quitting is difficult because smoking creates both a physical addiction and a psychological addiction, or “habit.” Both factors deepen your dependency on cigarettes – and the combination of the two makes tobacco one of the most addictive drugs used today. To quit smoking, you will need to break both the “habit” and the nicotine addiction.

Some people have more of a problem with one aspect of smoking than the other; they may smoke more for the nicotine, or more for the pleasure and comfort of holding a cigarette. Identifying why you smoke each time you light a cigarette is very important. Certain events become very strongly associated with smoking in your subconscious, and can cause you to crave a cigarette. For some people, breaking these connections can be the hardest part of quitting. Identifying your “triggers” – the things you do that always make you light up – is crucial. Once you have identified your reasons for smoking and your triggers, you can work toward breaking them.

Quitting takes time and effort; most smokers who quit on their own don’t finally succeed until their seventh or eighth attempt. Don’t get discouraged if you lapse – the key to quitting is not letting little setbacks become big failures in your mind. A slip is just a slip; it doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed in kicking the habit.

Understanding the changes your body undergoes when you are quitting is the first step towards dealing with them. Many people experience strong withdrawal symptoms, feelings that are due to their body’s need for nicotine and their mind’s need for cigarettes. Such symptoms include craving (which usually passes within a week), fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

One factor of particular interest to musicians is that some people report feeling that sounds are louder, or external stimuli are somehow more palpable, after they quit smoking. Nicotine seems to affect people’s concentration by decreasing peripheral vision and hearing. If you seem more sensitive to sounds or people seem to walk by you more often, it’s probably just that you are noticing it more once you are no longer affected by the numbing effect of nicotine.

Recovery symptoms are the result of your body healing itself from the damage done by nicotine and tar. The overall feeling is often a bit like having a cold. These symptoms generally last only a few days and are an indication that your body getting better. You may experience headaches, dizziness or tingling in the hands and feet. It is also common to get a sore throat or a cough. You should recognize that it is possible that you will gain some weight (5-8 pounds is normal), and let yourself wait until you are a secure non-smoker before you start to take off that weight.

Finally, developing new ways to relax and deal with stress is often critical to ensuring that you quit permanently.