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How to Beat Triggers That Make You Crave a Cigarette

Posted on October 30, 2018

TUESDAY, Oct. 30, 2018 (American Heart Association) -- When Rafe Poirrier smoked cigarettes, he smoked as soon as he woke, after eating, while driving, and whenever he took a break at work.

"I think my favorite (part) was socializing -- hanging out with smokers outside an office building, at a bar or in a park," said Poirrier, 51, of Houston.



Physical cravings, combined with environmental, behavioral and personal triggers like those Poirrier experienced, can make quitting very difficult. In fact, a 2009 study showed that simply viewing an image of a person smoking can trigger someone who has recently quit to abandon their newfound resolve.

The classic example of how a trigger works is from Psychology 101: Pavlov's dogs salivated every time they heard Ivan Pavlov ring a bell because the researcher always rang a bell before feeding them.

"We too have these conditioned responses," said clinical psychologist Barry J. Jacobs, a Pennsylvania-based clinical psychologist
and health care consultant. "Certain stimuli wind up giving us a certain response."

Jacobs, who specializes in helping people form good health habits, adds that when a person smokes while drinking coffee, for example, cigarettes and coffee eventually become associated so that when the person drinks coffee he or she automatically wants a cigarette. "Coffee becomes a trigger," he said.

Triggers come in a few categories. Etta Short, director of clinical development and support at Optum, a corporate tobacco cessation program, said dependence on the nicotine in tobacco causes physical cravings that become paired with actions and emotions throughout the day.

Triggers associated with behaviors include driving, finishing a meal or talking on the phone. Environmental triggers include spending time with smoking friends or being at a bar or music concert. And emotional triggers can include stress, boredom, anger or even pleasurable feelings.

For Poirrier, who started smoking at age 20 while on a college exchange program in France, it was a business trip. Although he had quit smoking two years earlier, returning to Paris caused a personal trigger so strong and so unexpected that he relapsed.

"I think the need to smoke was fueled by nostalgia," said Poirrier, who smoked for more than two decades.

His relapse was short-lived. He walked throughout the city smoking the cigarettes in that single pack for hours, then took the metro back to his hotel, smoked one last cigarette outside and tossed the remainder.

That was in 2014. "I haven't smoked since," he said.

Poirrier initially quit when his workplace became smoke-free, which caused him to cut back from his three-pack-a-day habit to one pack a day. But he also had a constant cough, struggled to catch his breath when walking up stairs and was concerned about the effects of secondhand smoke on his kids. He said staying focused on the benefits of not smoking helps him to avoid triggers now.

Tying your motivation to quit to those types of core values can really help, Short said. "Living up to core values is a strong intrinsic reinforcement that helps the person stick to the plan and not let triggers get in the way of the resolve."

Short said the way to turn your back on triggers is to anticipate them and make a plan with coping strategies, such as substitutes for smoking, distractions, relaxation techniques
and motivating statements. She also recommends nicotine replacement therapy to manage physical cravings so that the person can stay focused.

"The first two to four weeks are the toughest," she said. "But for many people, it takes much longer for all triggers to fade."

Copyright © 2018 All rights reserved.

Here are some questions-and answer threads from MyCOPDTeam:

Is there anyone here that still smokes after being diagnosed. I am looking for some support to quit...

I need help, I quit smoking for 88 days and I relapsed.

How to stop smoking? Tried everything I can think of to quit: gum, patches, e-cigarettes, even had my doctor give me some medication to quit but nothing worked. Does anyone have any ideas?

Here are some conversations from MyCOPDTeam:

"I have quit smoking. I am 15 hours without a cigarette!"

"A year ago I got pneumonia and spent several days in the hospital when I came home, I was still so sick I didn't even think of smoking. When I began to get better I thought It came down to this---do you want to smoke or do you want to breathe?--breathing won! I called a friend and said get the cigarettes out of my house. I knew I wasn't strong enough to resist if they were within reach."

"Seems the longer I go without smoking the better my breathing is getting. Had to join a quit group online but I didn't give in. (I had a couple pretty tough days.)"

Did you OR are you still trying to quit smoking? Have you identified your triggers?
Share in the comments below or directly on MyCOPDTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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