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Curbing the Craving to Smoke

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

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Q. I quit smoking yesterday, after smoking one to two packs a day for five years. I considered using the patch, but I've heard many people say it made them sick. I think I will be fine without the nicotine; however, I am about to go crazy looking for something to do with my hands. I feel very nervous and anxious. What do you recommend? I also had a very hard time sleeping; is this normal, and should I take some over-the-counter sleep aids until the withdrawal symptoms lessen?

A. Anyone who smoked one to two packs of cigarettes per day will definitely have withdrawal symptoms from lack of nicotine (this is a very addicting drug!), so first, accept your symptoms as normal and congratulate yourself for having the ability even to take the first step in quitting this deadly habit. This is the most important step you will ever take to improve your overall health.

For anxiety and sleeplessness, the best remedy may actually be the prescription medication Zyban, since this actually decreases withdrawal symptoms. It is used for a finite period of time, generally six to eight weeks, and by that point the cravings are far less strong. Over-the-counter sleep products may help. I would not hesitate to use one.

Although not actually an indication for smoking cessation, the herb St. John's wort also may help with some of the same craving symptoms and is worth a try if you prefer to avoid prescription medication. The dose is 300 mg, 3 times per day.

As for your hands, do anything but put food in them! Start a journal, learn calligraphy, or use the signal to pick up a cigarette as the signal for a new habit, such as standing and stretching or taking a quick walk, even if it is only a few feet. The important part of this is rewiring your system to expect a new activity; it really doesn't matter what the activity actually is.

Good luck!

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