Just eight weeks after smoking your last cigarette, great things are happening to your body, but also to your psyche. What exactly, we explain here.
Rather throw it in the trash than into the lungs
“Mom, you're dying from smoking!” The more often my son threw his hands up in horror as soon as he saw me smoking, the less I could justify the smoking to myself. So I stopped. That was in 2019.
Two months later I was still a non-smoker. Addiction doctor Tobias Rüther was enthusiastic about my smoking cessation. To this day, he heads the special outpatient clinic for tobacco addiction at the Ludwig Maximilian University Hospital in Munich. “If you stop smoking, a lot of positive things will happen in your life very quickly.”
Very quickly, a lot
After just eight hours, the body is supplied with much more oxygen , explained Rüther at the time. After just a day or two, many people could smell and taste better again. After two weeks, the lung function had improved significantly, which is often noticeable during sport. However, I felt just as fit as a smoker as I did as a non-smoker.
“It can happen that you get a stronger cough than you had before,” Rüther warned me in 2019. “That's because the lungs are starting to clean themselves.” This spring cleaning takes about a month. “After a month your immune system is also significantly stronger.”
After three months of abstinence, according to the addiction doctor, you can look forward to significantly better sleep. “Smokers experience nicotine withdrawal at night. You don't wake up from it, but you sleep much more restlessly. After three months, your sleep has returned to normal.”
Danger from cigarette number 3
< p>Before I could decide in favor of complete abstinence, I thought that reducing the number of cigarettes would automatically be healthier. Then it shouldn't have been more than two a day: The toxic one sets in after the third cigarette Smoke the body properly. “The cardiovascular risk, i.e. the risk of having a stroke or heart attack, is hardly increased between three and twenty cigarettes,” says Rüther. It's different with cancer. The danger increases with every single fag.
“It's really great that you stopped have,” said Rüther again and again. His joy is contagious; my own enthusiasm had been limited so far.
Every second smoker dies because of his tobacco addiction. About 50 percent even before the age of 70. “You would have felt the consequences of smoking by the age of 50 at the latest,” Rüther was certain.
Recidivism rate when smoking: 95 percent
Aids such as nicotine patches, hypnosis or acupuncture were not necessary to keep your fingers off the cigarette. The fact that my firm will alone was enough could be due to the fact that I switched to the smoking team so late – only at the age of 21. Another reason to be really happy, according to the addiction doctor.
“Most smokers start between the ages of twelve and 16, when the brain is still maturing. Nicotine is an extremely active neurotransmitter that decisively influences the development of neuronal connections in the brain.” The result is a lifelong dependency that can hardly be overcome with sheer willpower, explains Rüther.
But now Rüther said: “Of 100 smokers who, like you, quit without help, 95 will relapse in the first year.” Oh great.
The smoker's illusion
One reason for a relapse could be the “smoker's illusion”, a nasty psychological trick of nicotine. The psychological dependence is extremely strong, stressed Rüther. That's why I, of course, fell for the smoker's illusion: for years I convinced myself that smoking would calm me down, relieve stress and give me a short break.
“In reality, however, every cigarette increases the heartbeat and makes you more restless,” says Rüther. The fact that I felt calmed by smoking was simply because I had withdrawal symptoms after a long period without cigarettes and my dependent body was craving more nicotine. “So the cigarette only takes away the anxiety that you wouldn't have had as a non-smoker.”
The first night out with friends, music and wine but no cigarettes was pretty weird. Something was missing and didn't feel normal. For years I had very successfully conditioned myself to the fact that smoking was simply a part of certain situations: with coffee, with wine, at a break.
“It works like Pavlov's dog: you admit something to the dog Eating and ringing a bell at the same time. At some point the jingling is enough and the dog starts salivating,” explained Rüther.
For smokers, however, this bell rings constantly: people smoke to relax or to get going. As a reward after work, after eating, while waiting for the bus or after sex. The list could go on. “The crux is that cigarettes are so firmly integrated into smokers' everyday lives,” says the addiction expert.
Ways out of nicotine addiction
I want to quit. But how?
So if you want to quit, it's not an easy task. Tobias Rüther therefore first reassures his patients that failure is normal and part of it. “When patients say that they have already tried five times to quit, then I first acknowledge these attempts. After all, it seems to be an important concern for them.”
Non-smokers can be taught like riding a bike: falls belong the only thing that matters is getting back on the saddle. The physician calls it “decatastrophizing the relapse”.
It is also important to signal to the brain that something has changed. “Sit in a different chair than usual in the morning. Drink tea instead of coffee. Move the plant to a new spot at your workplace.” This is how Pavlov's dog in the smoker's head can be tricked.
And even if the will doesn't always work, it doesn't have to be a relapse, said Tobias Rüther. “One cigarette is a slip. It's not until the second cigarette that it's a relapse.”
This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in May 2023.