Samantha says, ‘I have been trying to give up smoking for years. I have managed 3 times for a short time but always find myself starting again. I have tried really hard but find myself hopelessly addicted. My husband was trying to quit the same time as me and has given up for 3 weeks now.’
She’s not alone. Many women have similar stories of finding giving up smoking much harder than their male friends and family. So, why do men find it easier to give up smoking than women?
Generally, men find it easier to quit smoking than women because of the different ways our brains respond to nicotine addiction. Cigarette smoking tends to be a more of an emotional attachment to women, than physical. This is why addressing the emotional satisfaction and associations with the act of smoking, before the physical cravings, is so important for women to successful quit smoking for good.
Nicotine Receptors And Giving Up Smoking
Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine in the US conducted a study that found that men had more nicotine receptors compared to men that did not smoke. Conversely, women who smoked had an equal number of nicotine receptors to the woman that did not smoke.
“When you look at it by gender, you see this big difference,” said study researcher Kelly Cosgrove, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.
These findings are important because it suggests that addressing nicotine addiction is not as important for women, as for men. While men may benefit from smoking cessation treatments such as nicotine patches and gum, women need to take a different approach. The researchers in the study suggest that women benefit more from cognitive behaviour therapies that help to address the emotional and cultural reasons they smoke. Relaxation and deep breathing exercises may also help more than using nicotine replacement therapies.
Emotional Reasons For Smoking
For women, smoking can often be associated with emotional triggers such as having coffee with a friend, occupying themselves when feeling insecure or the tactile sensation of having a cigarette between their fingers.
Here are some of the reasons why women find it difficult to give up cigarettes:
- Women often find when they are stressed and anxious they relapse because they equate smoking with relaxation,
- Women may find withdrawal symptoms harder to manage because they are not just fighting their nicotine addiction but also the sensation or act of smoking,
- Aids like nicotine replacement – gums and patches are not as effective with women due to how nicotine affects their brain,
- Women may also be apprehensive about putting on weight, it’s a popular belief that they replace cigarettes with junk food, and may justify smoking for weight control,
- Hormones fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can make quitting harder as women may also have to contend with emotions that cause them fall back into the smoking habit.
How Women Can Increase Their Chances Of Quitting For Good
If you really want to stop smoking you need to learn to cope with difficult feelings or situations. This may mean finding alternative ways of dealing stress.
For many, smoking is seen as a stress reliever (although it actually increases stress) so deep breathing exercises that mimic the habit of cigarette puffing, can really help. In fact, deep breathing exercises can not only provide a substitute for smoking but effectively reduce stress levels, unlike cigarettes.
Motivating and building self-confidence can also play an important role in quit smoking.
- Identify triggers to your smoking habit: when are you likely to feel like smoking? Recognise your patterns and understanding what your triggers to smoking are,
- Identify the reasons that you keep smoking. What causes you to have low mood and self-esteem, be anxious, get stressed etc.?
- Do things differently. Don’t try to do quit using the same approach as your male friends and relatives. Get support from a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist; try mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and ask for support from family and friends and the people closest to you,
- Set goals: SMART- simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely goals: Set a date, time and clear all the cigarettes from your home, desk and car,
- Drink plenty of water at least 6-8 glasses per day,
- Start a plan to exercise regularly and keep the momentum going,
- Avoid situation that will cause you to smoke again – social situations, friends that smoke, going to the pub. Don’t worry it’s only a temporary measure, once you’ve taken control of your smoking you can start to do these things again!
- Get a new hobby to replace your addictive habit,
- Use positive self-talk that will motivate and distract you from smoking. Many women find that delaying smoking a cigarette is an effective way to reduce the amount you smoke over time. For example, instead of having your first cigarette on the way to work, decide to have it later in the day and gradually extend this period of time. The feeling of empowerment can be very motivating – taking control – in fact, you might then decide to delay that first cigarette for good.
- Your nicotine craving will last only for 20 minutes so tell yourself, ‘it will pass, I can get through it.’
Women need to develop the confidence to find the best way to give up smoking for them. Instead of being influenced by what works for other people, particularly men, or what manufacturers of nicotine replacement products advocate, women need to understand what techniques will be effective for them.
In my opinion, the first step is to understand why you smoke. Forget about nicotine addiction, but focus on the emotional reasons you crave cigarettes and address these first.
If you would like to find out more about cognitive behaviour therapy and how this can be used to uncover those emotional triggers and teach you healthier ways to manage these, and give up smoking, contact me for an informal chat.
You may also like to take advantage of a free 30 minute consultation to chat through any issues you currently face.