Be a Quitter: How to Break Your Worst Habits

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The Die-Hard Smoker

Alberta Daniels, 45, Chicago

A 30-year smoker, Alberta Daniels didn't want to quit her pack-a-day habit but knew she had to. "I'm coughing more and my chest is starting to hurt," she told us.

She'd tried kicking butts four times previously, using a nicotine patch and lozenges. Once she quit for four months but relapsed and smoked a whole pack in a night.

Daniels told us she puffed to deal with job stress; she took several smoke breaks during the workday to ease her tension. At night, she'd shut herself in her bedroom and smoke to unwind.

The expert: Carol Southard, RN, a tobacco treatment specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Her give-it-up guide: Southard says it's a myth that smokers have to want to quit in order to succeed. "We do them a huge disservice by telling them to wait until they're ready. It's more important that they decide to quit and learn how to do it."

To give Daniels the best shot at kicking the habit, Southard enrolled her in a smoking cessation support group and prescribed nicotine patches and Chantix, a drug that shuts down the brain's nicotine receptors. Based on her experience, Southard felt the combination would give Daniels a significant chance of ditching cigarettes for good. "Smokers who try to quit without group support or medication have only a 3 to 5 percent chance of succeeding," she says.

How it worked: "I confess I didn't quit 100 percent at first," says Daniels. "I'd sneak two or three cigarettes a day. Carol said that allowing myself to smoke at all was a slippery slope. It was just so hard! I needed to smoke to deal with the work and financial drama in my life, but Carol called me out on my excuses. 'Having a cigarette isn't going to solve your problems,' she'd tell me.

"She suggested I alter my routine to avoid situations that made me want to light up. So instead of smoking in my bedroom when I got home from work, I sat outside and talked to my sister, who lives upstairs. Later, when I'd normally make coffee -- which always triggers a cigarette craving -- I hung out in the living room with my daughters. I'd never expose anyone to secondhand smoke so it helped to avoid being alone.

"Initially, I didn't tell my daughters and my 4-year-old grandson, Trevone, that I was quitting because I didn't want them to bug me. When I finally did, they were thrilled, especially Trevone. He'd learned about the dangers of smoking at preschool and had been begging me to stop.

"The withdrawal was rough, even with the patch. (I stopped taking Chantix after I broke out in a rash; I learned later that it was due to anxiety, not the drug.) I yelled at people, my concentration was off, and I was making mistakes at work. Going to the support group meetings helped because I saw that other people were struggling, too.

"Eight weeks into the program, I noticed I felt a lot better. One day I had to run a half block and up a flight of stairs to catch the train, and I wasn't winded. That was incredible. My sense of smell and taste improved too. When I stood next to a smoker, I'd think, Damn, that's what I used to smell like? I can't believe nobody told me!

"Today, I still want to smoke but I just don't. I wear the patch faithfully, and I even went back on Chantix because I want to kill the cravings for good. Now that I feel so much healthier, I've started kickboxing. I love it! It's another incentive to stay off cigarettes: If I smoke, I won't be able to kickbox.

"When I'd relapse during my past attempts to stop smoking, I'd think: Forget it. So what if I don't quit? But this time I didn't want to let Carol down -- or my family. When Trevone said, 'I'm glad you don't smoke those cigarettes anymore, Grandma,' it was a really proud moment."

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Continued on page 3:  The Soda Fiend

 

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