Can Mindfulness Help People Quit Smoking?

Most smokers use tobacco regularly because they are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine dependence is considered one of the hardest addictions to break. Good thing, the increasing awareness about the harmful effects of smoking has encouraged many people to quit. Unfortunately, more than 85 per cent of them experience a relapse, most within one week.

There are plenty of treatments available for people needing help to quit smoking. Among the most common are medications, nicotine replacement therapy, and psychotherapy. A relatively new approach though is gaining popularity among health professionals and the general public. This method is far different from standard treatments but is showing positive impact in the lives of smokers who are looking to eliminate tobacco from their lives. It’s mindfulness training.


Can science prove it?

Fortunately, yes. A study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2011, which involved 88 adult participants who smoked at least half a pack of tobacco a day, suggests that mindfulness can have a positive effect on quitting smoking, particularly in reducing nicotine craving. Participants were randomly assigned to attend either mindfulness training or a standard smoking cessation programme. Said programme involved teaching participants how to make lifestyle changes and avoid their smoking triggers. After eight sessions, those who went through mindfulness training showed a greater reduction rate in smoking which lasted even after the study was over. After four months, 31% of the mindfulness group were still not smoking whilst only 6% of the standard treatment group successfully stopped. The study, which was conducted by the researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine, was the first to use mindfulness training as a stand-alone approach for quitting smoking.


How does Being Mindful Help?

Mindfulness helps people quit smoking primarily by reducing nicotine craving. People with addiction understand that craving is a very concrete, immediate problem that causes problems in their life. Craving causes them stress, which in turn only accelerates their desire to smoke. Mindfulness does not address craving issues by simply looking for alternatives (e.g. carrot sticks in place of cigarettes). It goes deeper into the root cause of craving.

Mindfulness also allows smokers to become aware of how smoking harms their body. By practising mindfulness, they begin to realise that inhaling tobacco smoke is not really pleasurable as it gets them suffocated, reduces their sense of taste, disrupts their breathing pattern, and prevent them from doing day to day activities that require energy.


The RAIN Technique

Dr Judson Brewer, one of the study authors and the medical director of Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, teaches smokers to use mindfulness in warding off craving by using the RAIN technique. RAIN stands for ‘Recognize’, ‘Accept this moment’, ‘Investigate the experience as it builds’ and ‘Note what is happening’. During the mindfulness training, smokers are taught to be able to recognise the craving and the fact that it gets more intense for a period of time. Next, they are taught to stop trying to resist what they feel, or stop doing something about it. Then, they would have to be ‘aware’ of what’s happening in their body at the very moment – what the sensations they are experiencing, whether it’s tightness, dullness, or pressure. They wouldn’t have to do anything about it but wait until the sensations subside.

According to Dr Brewer, every time the person rides out a craving, it gets weaker. He compares craving to a screaming child in the grocery store. If you give her a lollipop, she may stop, but only for a while. If you clap your hand over your child’s mouth, she’ll scream louder the moment your hand moves away. A better option would be to lovingly and patiently hold your child until she stops screaming. Dr Brewer said it might be uncomfortable at first but eventually, the child will get tired and stop screaming. And the next time she screams, it wouldn’t be as loud and intense as the previous one.

Mindfulness is more about facing the moment, being aware of what you feel at a certain time, no matter how uneasy it makes you feel. Then, allowing your body to let go of it until the undesirable feeling completely subsides. This ancient technique is more powerful than it sounds. And if it could help bust nicotine addiction, there’s a great possibility that it can also help people overcome other habits that compromise their health.

Come in for a Guided Meditation at the suite. Feel the benefits and love your body!

Best wishes, Steve