Sue Scheff: Self Control and Quitting – Teenage Smoking

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“It was nerve-wracking, because you’re really thinking about it. It becomes your primary focus. It was all I could think about. The only thing I wanted to do was have a cigarette.”

– R.J. Williams, 22

<!–a href=”#” target=”_blank”&gt;Sprint&lt;/a–>Quitting smoking requires a lot of self-control. So does sticking to a diet, doing well in school, learning a new musical instrument, exercising regularly, and more.  But if you focus on one of these tasks, will you have enough discipline for another? New research says maybe not.

R.J. Williams started smoking at 18. In less than a month, he was hooked.

“Probably within two to three weeks. You start thinking about it more and more, and then before you know it, it’s like, ‘Man, I want to smoke,’” says Williams, 22.

After four years, R.J. quit cold turkey. But smoking was all he could think about.

“It was nerve-wracking, because you’re really thinking about it. It becomes your primary focus. It was all I could think about. The only thing I wanted to do was have a cigarette,” says Williams.

Brain researchers at the University of Toronto found that resisting temptation uses energy in the “self-control” part of the brain — so much so that it’s hard to give up something else simultaneously. For example, it’s not easy to quit smoking and go on a diet at the same time. Experts say that giving up tobacco requires even more self-control because it is actually three addictions rolled into one.

“There is a social addiction, a physical addiction and a psychological addiction that goes along with tobacco,” says Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator.

That’s why she says getting your teen to quit smoking may require more than just a lecture.

“It may mean that they need treatment of some sort. They might need counseling. They may even need other help such as nicotine replacement therapy,” says Bennett.

Williams says what helped him most was a diversion.

“If I wanted a cigarette I would just exercise and do something. That helped me,” says Williams.

Tips for Parents

  • Realize that a smoking addiction can happen fast.  Teens are at risk for becoming addicted to cigarettes soon after they learn to inhale.  That’s when nicotine starts getting into their bloodstream. If you discover your child smoking, don’t dismiss the behavior as a passing phase.  (Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health)
  • Try to find your teen a tobacco cessation program in your area.  Often, the programs are based in schools.  (Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health) 
  • If your child is trying to quit smoking, ask your doctor to consider prescribing nicotine replacement therapy.  According to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens who use a nicotine patch are eight times more likely to quit smoking than those who use a placebo patch.  Teens who use nicotine gum are almost three times more likely to quit than those who use placebo gum. Your doctor can determine the correct dose. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • Since teens are often unable to see the long-term consequences of smoking, explain to them the current effects to their health.  Nicotine is a stimulant that causes their heart rate to increase and their blood pressure to go up.  Also, nicotine will change the chemistry of their brain, leading to addiction.  Quitting smoking can improve the shortness of breath often felt during exercise.  (Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health)
  • Help teens understand that if they resist the urge to smoke, eventually it will pass.  The urge to smoke will come back, but they must fight the urge each and every time.  (Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health)
  • Teens may need counseling to help break the addiction.  The counselor can help them come up with a plan to deal with the physical, mental and social aspects of the addiction.  (Ramona Bennett, tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health)

References

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, Teen Tobacco Addiction Treatment Research Clinic
  • Ramona Bennett. tobacco cessation coordinator, Georgia Division of Public Health
  • Centers for Disease Control
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