Giving up smoking: The immediate hidden benefits
After numerous attempts to quit, my two-packs-a-day-and-one-for-the-morning colleague checked himself into a private hospital in Hong Kong. He just felt he could make no attempt to stop smoking if he was in his own home and only feet from his favourite ashtray. And it worked. The clean environment (and a rather hefty bill for the week) ensured he would at least not light up in the taxi on the way home. Psychologically, seeing himself as someone who needed medical treatment for something beyond his ability to control was crucially important and gave him both the initial motivation and commitment to continue.
Whilst he was there, he caught the tail-end of a smoking cessation course the hospital had been running and one information sheet in particular caught his attention:
- 20 minutes after your last cigarette: Your blood pressure, pulse rate, and the temperature of your hands and feet will all return to normal.
- After 8 hours: The remaining nicotine in your bloodstream will have fallen to 6.25% of normal peak daily levels, a 93.25% reduction. The carbon monoxide levels in your blood will drop by half.
- After 12 hours: Your blood oxygen level will have increased to normal, and carbon monoxide levels will have dropped to normal.
- After 48 hours: Damaged nerve endings have started to re-grow and your sense of smell and taste are beginning to return to normal.
- After 72 hours: Your entire body will test 100% nicotine-free and over 90% of all nicotine metabolites (the chemicals it breaks down into) will now have passed from your body via your urine. Symptoms of chemical withdrawal have peaked in intensity, including restlessness.
And the list continued. These encouraging statements provided exactly the motivation my colleague needed at that moment. They weren’t simply promises of a return to health in 10 or 20 years time, but indicators of an improvement in physical health right here, right now, and only minutes and hours after his last cigarette.
I wonder how many of us who’ve ever thought about quitting were aware of these early benefits. I think this is really important information especially to those who think they may have to wait years in order to experience any improvement in their physical health.
But - as anyone with an addiction will tell you – it’s not the stopping but the staying stopped that is the hard part, and I’m not here to pretend giving up a strong chemical dependency and a lifelong habit is going to be anywhere near easy. Even with nicotine out of the system the physical and psychological changes can be extremely challenging. But the rewards in terms of better health, well-being and self-esteem can also be immense.
If you are thinking of quitting smoking – go for it. The NHS and others are there to help and personal counselling can be a strong support during the early days especially in terms of re-enforcing that ever-important motivation.
My smoke-free colleague has just celebrated 25 years.
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About Hugh Trethowan
Hugh is a counsellor specialising in helping individuals and their families. He has many years’ experience working with different methods of recovery. His accreditation is with The Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP).