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Quitting – stimulating the brain’s reward systems

Following on from the previous post, the best advice I can give anyone who is attempting to quit smoking, apart from join a forum and use NRT or other quit smoking medication, is to activate the reward centres of your brain in other ways.

Previously, we found that tobacco is addictive because it releases dopamine, which stimulates the reward centres of our brains. For this reason, I feel that part of therapy should include finding ways to reward yourself and thereby help to break the association between dopamine and cigarettes.

In the early days of my quit, I found that food was a good reward. Chocolate was especially satisfying, but while it can be good in the beginning, particularly, because eating is one of those natural activities that releases dopamine, it is not sustainable in most cases, due to possible weight gain.

I was wary of food from the beginning and wanted to reward myself in other ways. I think the trick is to feel pleasure in different ways, to break the associations. For me this involved a lovely warm shower in the evening, copious numbers of delicious cups of tea, burning incense and lovely music, however it could be bigger things like a holiday or a trip to the movies. The options are literally only constrained by your imagination.

Quitting smoking means a lot more disposable income and if you set this aside, it really starts to add up. You can use that money to give yourself lovely treats. Maybe it is a massage, or some books or flowers. The important thing is to learn how to feel good again, and to associate all these pleasurable activities with being a non smoker!

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