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Chronic Pain and Cigarette Smoking: Another Reason to Quit

Live better with pain: freedom from smoking

People with chronic pain are significantly  more likely to be cigarette smokers than those without chronic pain. Some smokers with chronic pain report using smoking as a means of coping with their pain. However, smoking is not an effective coping strategy and has been associated with greater pain intensity, more pain interference, and more fear of pain. Smoking (and passive smoke) has been found to be linked to increased headaches.  Smokers with back pain reported more emotional distress, lower activity levels, and greater reliance on pain medication than nonsmokers with back pain.  Smoking will not enhance your ability to cope with your pain and may make your pain worse. Of course, if you smoke, you already know the dangers of smoking with respect to cancer and cardiovascular disease, among other health risks. Quitting would not only reduce your risk of cancer, heart, and other diseases, it may also improve your ability manage your chronic pain.

How to Quit?

Quitting is a complex process. You may find that you will try and fail a few times before you succeed. There are a number of factors that contribute to success. I have listed a few below:

Make a commitment to quitting. Write down all of the reasons you want to quit, in addition to better pain management. Spend time imaging how not smoking will change your life and give you a healthier future. Choose a quit day. Put it on your calendar. Understand that quitting will need to have the greatest priority in your life for a while. As time goes on, it will become easier and easier until you reach a point where you don't have to think about it anymore.

Create a coping plan. Stopping smoking may be one of the most difficult changes you will ever make. Create a

list of coping strategies and a list of activities that are incompatible with smoking (e.g., swimming). Identify high risk situations and plan to avoid them or prepare for how you will manage. Talk to people you know who have quit and ask them how they coped.

Talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement products. Enlist your doctor's help. Make an appointment to talk about how to quit and whether a nicotine replacement product may be right for you.

Use social support. Quitting is hard! Join an online or face-to-face support group. Tell your friends and family of your intention to quit and talk about how they can help.

You will need as much help as you can find. I have listed some important resources below:

American Cancer Society

The National Cancer Institute

The American Lung Association

Nicotine Anonymous

There may be many aspects of your pain problem that are beyond your control. To live well with chronic pain, it is useful to identify areas where you do have control…and then take control. Quitting smoking is something you can do to control your pain. It is difficult but not impossible. Good luck.

About the Author. Dr. Linda Ruehlman is a social/health psychologist and researcher, co-founder of Goalistics, and director of the Chronic Pain Management Program, an interactive site that helps people with chronic pain to manage their pain and live richer, more effective lives as well as Think Clearly about Depression, a self-management program for depression.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is provided as an educational and informational resource only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional psychological or medical advice.


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