Updated: Jun 18
Tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally every year. Tobacco smoking is a known risk factor for many respiratory infections and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. A review of studies by public health experts convened by WHO on 29 April 2020 found that smokers are more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19, compared to non-smokers.1
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. In smokers, the lung capacity and functions are reduced, making it harder for their body to fight off the virus and places them at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. For illustration, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus making it difficult for it to be naturally cleared out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and affects the immune system making the addicts more susceptible to being infected with and experiencing severe complications of COVID-19. Additionally, according to the World Health Organisation, smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth.2
While this indicates that it is always a good idea to quit tobacco use, quitting may be particularly important at this time to reduce the harm caused by COVID-19 as it may increase the ability of the people to respond to the infection and potentially reduce the risk of developing severe symptoms. Social distancing can cause stress and anxiety but at the same time, it can increase your chances of reducing some of your triggers like going out for partying with your friends/colleagues etc. It can also help you set up new routines in place and seek help from your family to help you quit.
What is Withdrawal and How To Overcome It?
Image by – www.quit.org.au
The state of withdrawal is defined by WHO as “A group of symptoms of variable clustering and degree of severity which occur on cessation or reduction of use of a psychoactive substance that has been taken repeatedly, usually for a prolonged period and/ or in high doses.”3
While quitting smoking is a wise decision, a sudden and unplanned decision to do so can cause you severe harm. India has witnessed a sudden upsurge in patients facing withdrawal symptoms due to sudden unavailability of alcohol and within a week of implementation of the lockdown, reports of deaths and suicides linked to alcohol withdrawal were reported to upsurge.4 The intensity and length of these withdrawal symptoms can vary widely, depending on the nicotine, alcohol or drug addiction and your biological make-up. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from shivering, unexplained craving, headaches, dehydration, nausea and sleeplessness to more acute conditions such as delirium, depression, hallucinations, fever, vomiting and seizures.
The good news is that these withdrawal symptoms can be controlled with the help of a detailed plan, motivation to improve one’s health and relationships, and professional help. Here are some pointers to help you overcome withdrawal/help someone who is suffering from it:
Recognize Your Triggers – Triggers are activities that people who smoke like to do while smoking. It could be a social situation like going out with friends, a place like a bar or a pub, or a psychological state like stress and anxiety. Since triggers vary from one individual to another, the first step is to identify what triggers you.
Create Distractions and Change Habits – Once the awareness is there, the next step is to limit those triggers and undertaking tasks that distract you to overcome them. Not going to the bar, finding a quitting buddy, exercising, listening to music, calling a friend, spending time with family, practicing meditation and mindfulness are some of the activities that might help you. Disclaimer: Consult your doctor before starting any new exercise or yoga routine if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.
Exercise helps limit weight gain which is seen in some people have when they quit smoking, it enables you to have more energy and enhances your mood.
Journaling can also help to vent out feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Finding a “quitting buddy”, that is, someone who wants to quit or just quit a while ago can be beneficial as sharing your experiences can help you remain motivated and feel less isolated.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, controlled breathing, and meditation and helps in relieving stress.
Positive Visualization – This can be done in two ways. The first method is to close your eyes and remember the good memories from your past. This will help you calm down and feel happier. The second method is to visualize yourself going through the day without smoking or vaping and ending it with a sense of accomplishment and a calm body and mind. You can extend this imagery to your future self by imagining yourself free of your addiction, in a healthy lifestyle with a better body, mind, relationships and a sense of control. These images will help you stay motivated and to achieve your goal. Practice this daily for 10-15 minutes when you wake up and just before you go to sleep. The trick to visualization is the details- the more details you add, the more positive emotions you will feel. If you are facing difficulty in creating images in your mind, you can start with guided meditation first. You can find a lot of apps and videos for guided meditation online. Calm and Headspace are good apps to start with but you can explore different apps to find the one best suited for your needs. Live The Life You Love, The Honest Guys – Meditations – Relaxation, Sadhguru and Great Meditation are some good YouTube channels that can help you with guided meditation.
Seek Support From Friends and Family – There is no shame in asking your friends and family for help. You have/are willing to make a bold decision and your close ones will only be happy in supporting you to become a better version of yourself. Ensure that you have someone to share your feelings of discomfort and withdrawal symptoms with. Moreover, knowing that other people know about your decision will help you stay focused and motivated.
Seek Professional Help – If you are finding it hard to quit smoking on your own then you should seek professional help. WHO recommends that smokers take immediate steps to quit by using proven methods such as toll-free quit lines, mobile text-messaging programmes, and nicotine replacement therapies.5 Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) like patches, gum, mouth spray, lozenge and inhaler; or quitting medication can help to cut cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms. Moreover, you can refer to a counselor or psychologist to help you in monitoring and relieving your emotional and psychological symptoms. Call an ambulance immediately if you suffer from hallucinations, seizures and severe symptoms.
A better life is waiting for you and your loved ones. This might be the best time for you to take the next step!
If you need help in quitting, call the Union Health Ministry’s toll-free Tobacco QuitLine: 1800-11-2356.
By – Shraddha Khurana Artwork by – Manu Sahu
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