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Reasons People Smoke

People say that they use tobacco for many different reasons—like stress relief, pleasure, or in social situations. One of the first steps to quitting is to learn why you feel like using tobacco. Then you can think about the reasons you want to quit.

Here are some common reasons why people say they smoke.

Addiction

Nicotine is the main addictive substance in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. Nicotine is a drug that affects many parts of your body, including your brain. Over time, your body and brain get used to having nicotine in them. About 80–90% of people who smoke regularly are addicted to nicotine.

Nicotine reaches your brain within 10 seconds of when it enters your body. It causes the brain to release adrenaline, and that creates a buzz of pleasure and energy. The buzz quickly fades, though. Then you may feel tired or a little down—and you may want that buzz again.

Your body is able to build up a high tolerance to nicotine, so you’ll need to smoke more cigarettes to get that same buzz. This up and down cycle happens over and over. That’s what leads to addiction.

When people don’t smoke, they may have withdrawal symptoms. That’s because their bodies have to get used to not having nicotine. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Feeling down or sad
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling irritable‚ on edge‚ grouchy
  • Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
  • Feeling restless and jumpy
  • Slower heart rate
  • Feeling more hungry or gaining weight

Learn more about nicotine withdrawal. Medication called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Your VA health care provider can give you a prescription for NRT. It’s also available without a prescription from your local pharmacy.

Addiction is the main reason people smoke, but it’s not the only reason.

Replace smoking with other behaviors. Distract yourself and keep your hands busy. Try a new hobby, chew gum, sip on water, or exercise!

Patterns

Smoking can become connected to other activities of your day-to-day life—like watching TV, talking on the phone, hanging out with friends, going certain places, or taking a break to relax. Then smoking becomes a part of a pattern or routine.

But you can get help to stop the routine. In-person counseling or talking with a counselor over the telephone can teach you how to break the link between smoking and your daily activities. Ask for help to create new patterns.

Emotions

Many people smoke because it’s a way they’ve learned to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, negative moods, and the stress of daily life. There are ways to deal with emotions without smoking. Counseling can teach you ways to cope, and getting support from loved ones can help, too.

More For You

Check out resources from VA, Smokefree, and the National Cancer Institute—trusted experts who can help you quit.
SmokefreeVET is a mobile text messaging service for military Veterans who receive their health care through VA.
It can be easy to lose sight of the benefits of quitting. Remind yourself of the rewards for staying on track.
Triggers like a stressful situation or sipping coffee may lead to a craving to smoke.