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How Quitting Smoking is Different for Women

Have you ever noticed that every time you try to quit smoking with one of your male friends, they usually have more success at it than you do? Well, don’t feel bad. It’s not you. Scientists have discovered evidence that nicotine may affect men and women differently. The research suggests that receptors in the brain bind to nicotine in different ways depending on if you are male or female. This may explain why men and women have such different experiences when attempting to quit. In this blog, SEARHC dives into research and shares why quitting smoking is different for women than men.

Close-up on female hands breaking a cigarette.

How nicotine keeps you smoking

Nicotine is an addictive chemical substance that is added to cigarettes and other tobacco products. The way nicotine keeps you hooked to smoking is by increasing the production of the chemical in your body that makes you feel good. This chemical is called dopamine. When you smoke, the dopamine produced tells your body that smoking is awesome by making your body feel good when you do it. This feeling then goes away when you stop smoking, so you are then left with cravings for more nicotine. This is why cigarette addiction is so hard to break. Nine out of ten people who smoke do so because of an addiction to nicotine.

Why is it harder for women to quit?

Studies have shown that men are more vulnerable to the addictive nicotine cycle than women. Research says men have more nicotine receptors than women and are more prone to smoke because of cravings and nicotine withdrawal. Although this seems like a bad thing, it actually makes quitting easier for men than women. Since men are mainly reacting to a chemical craving, they are able to control it better through cigarette cessation methods, like a patch or nicotine gum.

Studies say women are less sensitive to these purely chemical triggers and are often smoking for different reasons, such as a response to stress or to suppress their appetite to avoid weight gain. The connection between stress and smoking is stronger in women than it is in men. This makes it more difficult to quit because women are smoking to cope with external situations rather than because of anything going on chemically inside them. So, although a nicotine patch and gum will help prevent nicotine cravings, it won’t help improve someone’s mood or manage stress.

Quitting methods that work for women

Studies suggest that women smokers might have more success quitting with other types of smoking cessation treatment that aren’t related to treating nicotine withdrawal. These methods include behavioral therapies such as techniques to increase exercise or reduce stress, as well as non-nicotine suppression medicines. Here are a couple of additional quitting tips for women:

  • Time quitting around your menstrual cycle. Research shows that women have more success in attempting to quit smoking 15 days before or after menstruating.
  • Prepare yourself mentally for weight gain after quitting. Since women use smoking to suppress their appetite, weight gain is common. Those extra pounds will fall off quickly with a healthy diet and exercise.
  • Seek a support group. Talk to your spouse, friends, or partner for emotional support during rough times rather than leaning on cigarettes for coping. There are plenty of online support groups available as well.

For free support to quit tobacco, call Alaska’s Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or enroll online at alaskaquitline.com.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.