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Quit Tobacco Addiction
Dr. Debasmita Dey

Nicotine addiction is a global burden. India is no exception. Between smoking and chewing tobacco, the number of people dependent on nicotine is quite large. However, the good news is that many are coming forward today to get rid of this habit.

A lot has been said about the health hazards of regular tobacco use. It is responsible for causing cancerous growths in different parts of the body, like the lungs and mouth. Several chronic lung diseases are a direct result of regular smoking. It is the culprit behind stomach ulcers and heart problems. Despite knowing that, people find it difficult to quit.

It is not that the do not want to. But addiction is a powerful enemy. Long term tobacco (nicotine) use causes multiple changes in the brain circuits. That is to say, the brain is rewired such that as soon as the person tries to quit, the mind and body suffers immensely.

What happens when you want to quit? The brain, which was used to the stimulating effects of nicotine, feels energy deprived. So, the person becomes drowsy and irritable. Anxiety increases manifold. This is in addition to the constant craving for a smoke. The body experiences tremors, sleep patterns are disrupted and the person becomes dysphoric. It is at this point that the motivation to quit no longer holds, resulting in a relapse.

Is there a way out? The answer is yes. We initially start the patient on Nicotine Replacement Therapy. That is, we give him/her nicotine in the form of gums, lozenges or patch. That maintains a steady but controlled supply of nicotine to the brain, thus preventing withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully, we now have specific medicines that act as anti-craving agents to reduce the desire to smoke or chew tobacco. These medicines also ensure that the person is able to sleep well and does not become dysphoric. Together with this, we start the client on psychotherapy, the commonest being Motivation Enhancement Therapy or MET. The idea behind this is to boost the client’s motivation to quit and prevent a relapse. There are several sessions of MET that the client must attend before he/she masters the art of complete abstinence.

Do people relapse often? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The reason is often non-adherence to the treatment regime. Quitting a long-term habit that has extensively rewired the brain takes time and motivation. The psychiatrist is there to guide the client, but the client must meet the doctor half way. Otherwise, the treatment never works.

We often encourage family and friends to attend the therapy sessions along with the client. This ensures an additional support system, a safety net for the client. Together, the psychiatrist, the client and his/her well-wishers build a team that functions effectively to achieve the deaddiction status.

If you are a habitual tobacco user, it is time to consider quitting for a healthier tomorrow. If you have further queries on the subject, feel free to post a query to our site and we will get back to you in no time.