Given the multitude of ways in which smoking can harm a person, helping a loved one quit smoking could very well be a life-saving achievement, but do not expect an easy task. The Harvard Medical School notes that only about six percent of smokers who try to quit the habit for the first time succeed at being smoke free for more than a month, and on average, it takes five to seven attempts before the smoker quits for good. Therefore, neither you nor your loved one should ever lose heart because of relapses. Success comes with perseverance.
Your attitude and behavior, as the helper, can be an important factor. Experts caution against being judgmental, nagging, bullying or expressing dismay when an ex-smoker slips back. Try to display patience and understanding at all times, especially when your loved one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Here are some concrete suggestions to follow to improve the chances for success:
Create a smokeless environment. Avoid anything that might trigger an urge to smoke. Discard ashtrays, matches and lighters; and remove the smell of smoke from clothing and household fabrics, and freshen the air. Do not allow other household members or visitors to smoke on the premises. The same treatment should apply to the car as well. Is your loved one still working, even part time? Don’t forget the office either.
Encourage avoidance of external smoking environments. Casinos, racetracks, clubs and even the site of the occasional poker game are places where smoking may be endemic. With gentle persuasion, your loved one may decide to avoid them while trying to kick the habit.
Put it on paper. Sit down with your loved and list all the reasons why he or she wants to quit. Be unsparing and brutally frank about the many horrible diseases that smoking causes or worsens, but also include the more personal goals: watching the grandkids grow up; taking that exotic vacation you’ve long planned; enjoying the hobbies you finally have time for; and taking care of each other in your senior years. Don’t leave out the financial burden that smoking may be imposing on you and your loved one, and the various ways that money could be better spent. When all of that is in writing, choose a quit date and instill the determination that your loved one follow through on it.
Make yourself available. Be sure your loved one knows you are there to listen if he or she needs to talk. Make it clear that you recognize how difficult quitting can be.
Let others know about this plan. With your loved one’s knowledge, tell friends and associates that he or she has quit smoking and enlist their support in avoiding potential triggers for relapse. Doing so also should help them understand any behavioral changes resulting from withdrawal.
Help with chores. The American Cancer Society points out that lightening your loved one’s responsibilities can help relieve the stress that often accompanies an attempt to quit smoking. Perhaps, do some of the cooking or the laundry, or handle the household finances for a while.
Avoid overreacting to a stolen puff. It is not uncommon for a person trying to quit to surrender to an overwhelming urge for a puff or two. This doesn’t necessarily mean the battle is lost. It may simply be a “survival” tactic to carry on the fight. Very few smokers are able to quit cold turkey.
Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. Irritability, headaches, anxiety and depression are just some of the possible effects of nicotine withdrawal. The symptoms usually begin to taper off within two weeks. Try to divert your loved one with activities he or she particularly enjoys. Be sympathetic and don’t take any aberrant behavior personally. FDA-approved over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies, available as skin patches, gum and lozenges, can be helpful in easing withdrawal symptoms.
If necessary, try, try and try again. As noted above, failure is commonplace, especially in the first few attempts. Emphasize that fact to your loved one and encourage another try. Point out that the failed attempt was a learning experience that will help bring success eventually. Stay positive and express confidence that he or she will in time be a non-smoker.
Consider support groups. Your loved one may find useful outside help in the form of support groups for smokers trying to quit. The American Heart Association lists several major sources of such groups here.
Assisting your loved one in breaking the smoking habit may take months or even years of hard work and determination. Patience and perseverance are rarely easy, but always worth the end result. With a positive attitude, no-quit mindset and empathetic perspective, you can help your loved one quit smoking and get back to a healthier and happier life.