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Why Quitting Smoking Is Hard

Published on May 26, 2017
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

When you’re planning to quit smoking, it can help to know why becoming a former smoker is so difficult. As many smokers know, nicotine addiction has physical, mental, and social components. To stay smoke-free, you’ll need to learn how to manage physical, mental, and social challenges.    

It’s Physical

Most people who smoke tobacco regularly are addicted to its main chemical component, nicotine. The nicotine in cigarettes affects your brain when you smoke, producing a feeling of pleasure and causing you to want more nicotine. And nicotine withdrawal is why you probably feel irritable or anxious when you don't have a cigarette regularly.

Over time, as your brain gets used to nicotine, you may need to smoke more to have the same feelings of pleasure and calm that smoking once created. The more you smoke, the more you increase your chances of developing smoking-related illnesses.

It’s Social and Behavioral Too

Smoking can easily become a part of daily life. Certain people, places, feelings, events, and even moods can be linked with smoking.

Smoking routines can also become smoking triggers. Do you smoke a cigarette when you have a cup of coffee? Everything you do creates pathways or connections in the brain. Let's say you routinely smoke in the kitchen. You're actually training your brain to know that the kitchen is a place to smoke. Eventually, the kitchen can then become a trigger for you to want to smoke.

Getting Support Can Help

Quitting smoking can be hard, but it is possible. Having a plan in place can help you manage urges to smoke as well as how to best avoid personal triggers. A quit plan can help you better handle the physical, mental, and social challenges of quitting.

Creating a quit plan involves getting help from family, friends, and healthcare providers. A U.S. survey sponsored by Pfizer and the American Lung Association showed that of 146 adult smokers trying to quit smoking, 80% reported that the support from others, including that of family, friends, coworkers, and healthcare providers, is very important to successfully quit smoking.

Support from a healthcare provider, which may include counseling and medication, can double your chances of quitting. According to studies, only 4-7% of smokers who try to quit cold turkey without the support of medication or counseling are successful.

A number of online tools and resources are available to support a quit attempt. Quitter’s Circle, developed by Pfizer and the American Lung Association, provides information and tips about quitting smoking and enables quitters to form support networks with their friends and family.

Talk with your healthcare provider to develop a quit plan that’s right for you.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


  • 1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Tobacco Addiction. Accessed April 10, 2017.
  • 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use Fast Facts. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • 3. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Tobacco/Nicotine. Accessed April 10, 2017.
  • 4. Benowitz NL. Pharmacology of nicotine: addiction, smoking-induced disease, and therapeutics. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009;49:57-71.
  • 5. Kelley AE. Memory and addiction: shared neural circuitry and molecular mechanisms. Neuron. 2004;44:161-179.
  • 6. Your Plan-To-Quit Cards. Accessed April 10. 2017.
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After reading this article, how likely are you to speak with your healthcare provider about quitting smoking?


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