Effective way to kick a bad habit

Of the many who try, only very few people manage to give up smoking. Seven in 10 smokers would like to, but only 20-30 percent make the attempt in any year. Only about 5 percent manage to do so without expert help. A strong will and determination are what is needed to kick the habit, according to Professor Haralambos Roussos, of Athens and McGill universities, and Assistant Professor Christina Gratsiou, head of Athens University’s Special Center for Quitting Smoking. The person should be clear about the reasons why he or she wants to stop. They should then choose how they want to do it – whether alone or by seeking help. «What we do at the Evgenidio,» said Gratsiou, «is to evaluate the person’s motives and to support his or her determination during personal interviews. From our three years of experience since the center opened, we have found that smokers usually want to stop because they fear for their health. Yet more and more young people are coming to us because they want to set a good example for their families. We also explore the degree of dependency on smoking by means of a questionnaire chiefly regarding their smoking habits.» The next important step is to set a date for giving up, so the person can get into the right frame of mind. The experts suggest a gradual reduction of two to five cigarettes per day, depending on the person’s daily average consumption, with the general aim of giving up two weeks after the attempt begins. In the meantime, the person should change certain habits or activities that are linked to the smoking habit – drinking coffee, for example – and should increase consumption of fruit and natural fruit juices. Drinking a lot of water is important in order to flush the nicotine out of the body. Also important is to gradually put off lighting that first cigarette of the day, later and later each morning. It also helps to hold the cigarette in the other hand and to dispose of all the ashtrays around the house or office. «If people cannot get into this process, we help them with therapy, whether drugs or a combination of drugs and psychological support,» said Gratsiou. The «cure» lasts two months, and involves regular sessions. The success rate so far has been around 60 percent. Naturally, smoking is not an easy habit to give up. Apart from the strong desire for a cigarette, the person also has to go through withdrawal symptoms, whether nervy behavior, anxiety, sleeplessness, fear, anger, or heart palpitations, all of which can be relieved by relaxation techniques such as a hot bath, a walk or other exercise. The symptoms usually appear during the first 24 hours, build up on the third or fourth day and gradually disappear within six weeks. In some cases they might last longer, even for months, depending on the degree of dependency and the individual. There is one rule, however, that anyone who has kicked the habit should follow, and that is not to light up again, not even «just once,» for the smoking memory will be immediately activated. Those who stray should remind themselves of why they gave up in the first place, and try again.

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