Unchained: Breaking the Habit – A Longtime Smoker’s Guide to Quitting Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes isn’t as popular among Americans as it once was, but it’s still the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the US, and more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. If you smoke, you probably know all about the stigmas and risks it comes with (despite what your well-meaning friends and family might think, if they’re the kinds of loved ones that point out how bad smoking is all the time). And you also know it’s not easy to quit. If you’ve tried in the past, it might feel discouraging to give it another shot—but there’s hope! You might just need to go about quitting differently the next time around. 

Figuring out exactly how to stop smoking can be tricky. A quitting method that works for one person may not be the answer for another. Some people may benefit from nicotine patches or cognitive behavioral therapy, while others are motivated by lifestyle changes or tracking behaviors through apps. Some just go cold turkey! So take heart: While it might feel like there are many ways to fail at quitting smoking, there are just as many paths to success. Here, six former longtime smokers share what ultimately helped them permanently kick the habit. You’ll see that no two are exactly alike—and we hope you find something that might help you, specifically.

I addressed mental health issues I’d suppressed while smoking.

After a brief smoking stint during her teenage years, Ali Nolan, 37, quit while attending a boarding school that didn’t allow cigarettes. She started smoking again when she went to college and ultimately smoked from age 18 to 25.

“I picked it back up in college because it was a declaration of independence, but I also struggled with depressive episodes and had trouble concentrating,” Nolan tells SELF. “Smoking was such a comfort. When I couldn’t get out of bed, a cigarette would lure me out.”

Nolan eventually quit in solidarity with her husband, who was also a longtime smoker. They both read the popular book Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Quit Smoking and had success quitting cold turkey, and she didn’t smoke for four years, when she left a job working as an editor at a national running publication and picked up vaping. She found this even more difficult to quit than cigarettes, and felt shame and embarrassment about it, she says, because she’d otherwise adopted a much healthier lifestyle than when she smoked cigarettes.

Sarah King Cherington, 43, started smoking when she was 13 and kept it up until she was 27. While she considered quitting in college, she never put serious effort into it until her mid-20s, when she felt like the physical effects of smoking were catching up with her.

“I’d started going to the gym and enjoyed exercise, but I felt like crap,” Cherington tells SELF. “I also knew I wanted to have kids, and that was my biggest motivation, because I wasn’t going to smoke and have kids.”

At the time, Cherington was working at a high-pressure job as an exercise physiology-and-physical-therapy assistant in the intensive care unit at a Boston hospital. She tried to quit on her own, but found the withdrawals difficult to deal with. “I just felt like I had brain fog, and whenever I tried to cut down and go cold turkey, I couldn’t handle work,” she says. “I couldn’t manage my emotions, I was super irritable, and I had a hard time organizing my thoughts.”

Cherington learned about a smoking-cessation group program offered by her workplace. The six-week program was led by a nurse educator who taught participants about the pharmacological and psychological effects of smoking. The program also provided subsidized nicotine patches and prescription medications if a physician determined someone needed them. Cherington began taking Wellbutrin (known generically as bupropion SR), which is most commonly known as an antidepressant, but is also approved by the FDA for smoking cessation.

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