People who have experienced trauma may use different coping methods to address their vulnerability and feelings of stress and anxiety. One of the typical coping methods among those who have undergone trauma or are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) is smoking. Individuals with PTSD are 22% more likely to be tobacco users than those who don’t have trauma.

Understanding this link can be crucial in helping trauma survivors move away from harmful coping mechanisms like smoking. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between trauma exposure and smoking as well as a few ways that individuals can recover from the habit.

There are a number of ways trauma and cigarette smoking are connected.

Smoking to Manage Negative states

People who have undergone traumatic events experience high levels of stress. This occurs when avoiding triggers or when they’re in danger. The body produces stress hormones, like adrenaline, resulting in a fight-or-flight response that numbs the senses and dulls the pain.

Being in a constant state of stress can take a toll on an individual, so they may choose to smoke in order to cope. Cigarettes can temporarily relieve negative feelings, activating reward pathways in the brain that regulate reinforcement and pleasure. Thus, these individuals may feel motivated to smoke whenever they encounter triggers or distress.

Trauma can make smoking harder to quit

Smoking, in itself, is a hard habit to stop. Many factors can make it difficult to quit smoking, including experiencing withdrawal symptoms like restlessness and cravings. Smokers may also encounter outside triggers that urge them to smoke, such as seeing other people with cigarettes.

For individuals who have experienced trauma, however, quitting the habit can be even more challenging. The pleasant feelings that come from smoking can be impactful, causing them to constantly reach for cigarettes to avoid negative emotions. Additionally, they can be more susceptible to their triggers than people without trauma, resulting in smoking more often.

Still, individuals who smoke due to trauma should try to recover from the habit. Smoking can be dangerous to overall health, and addiction could possibly lead to additional stressors in the future. Here are some ways they can start their recovery:

Taking Steps to Recover

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) provides an individual with a tobacco-free nicotine product to use in place of traditional cigarettes. Nicotine pouches and patches are common NRT products.

As one of the more popular NRTs, nicotine pouches are placed between the lip and gum, and many brands are developed especially for American consumers who need a smoke-free nicotine product to help them quit. ZYN and On! are popular in the market, as they come in strengths ranging from 2mg to 8mg, so users can adjust their dose accordingly. Next, nicotine patches are transdermal products that reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These can stick to the skin for up to 24 hours, giving users a steady dose of nicotine. Nicoderm CQ and Habitrol come in dosages of 7mg, 14mg, and 21mg, depending on the user’s preferred consumption. By using NRT products, individuals with trauma can gradually shift away from smoking for better health and seek healthier coping mechanisms.

Undergo behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy is a ​​treatment that trains a person’s reactions to stimuli or triggers. It can address addiction and trauma by encouraging individuals to examine recurring negative thoughts and replace them with healthy ones.

A mental health professional can guide an individual through this process by recommending potential effective coping strategies aside from smoking. For instance, a therapist or counselor can advise aversion therapy, which involves pairing an undesirable behavior with an aversive stimulus. A person can be prescribed smoking cessation medication like Varenicline that prevents them from feeling pleasure when using cigarettes. By undergoing behavioral therapy, individuals can form healthier coping strategies that will benefit them in the long run.

Find Support

Having a support system consisting of loved ones and people with similar experiences makes the recovery process less isolating. This support can motivate an individual to seek better ways to cope with trauma other than smoking by having a space to share their experiences and get advice from others.

Aside from family and friends, there are PTSD support groups like CPTSD Community Safe Group, connecting people with PTSD worldwide, and MyPTSD, which is a forum that delivers news, information, and community support for survivors.

While quitting can be difficult, trauma survivors with smoking habits should maximize the above strategies and aim for complete smoking cessation. By doing so, survivors can more easily find alternative pathways to healing, without compromising their health and the health of the people around them.


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