Women and the Process of Quitting Smoking

Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Apr 30, 2010

So how does the process of quitting smoking differ for women and men, and are there specific things that a woman should consider when attempting to stop smoking?

Studies show that women report more intense withdrawal symptoms and cravings than men.  Women also report higher levels of emotional and physical dependence on cigarettes, and there is evidence that women are actually more dependent on nicotine than are men.  Another consideration is mood.  Depression and anxiety disorders are twice as common in women than men and negative moods such as depression and anxiety can lead to relapse. 

So it can be important for women to consider certain things when choosing a quit date and making a plan to stop smoking

First of all, it could be helpful to pick a quit date that coincides with a time that may be less stressful for you.  A long weekend or vacation are often good times to quit because with not only the stress level perhaps being less, it is often a time when you are away from your usual surroundings or routine, and the normal “triggers”  for smoking – such as on the way to work, etc.  Similarly, it may be helpful for the woman to consider the timing with regards to her menstrual cycle.  Research shows that those who try quitting in the late luteal phase - that being the time just prior to beginning your period –  have a lower success rate than those who avoid this particular time in their cycle.

Also, line up your support systems prior to quitting – as support appears to be a bigger issue for women as compared to men.  Women tend to utilize more social or “palliative” interventions when trying to quit such as support groups, talking with friends, or counseling.  Whereas, men use more “active” coping strategies – such as behavioral substitutes, changing routines, and exercise.

Women who live with a tobacco user also tend to have a harder time quitting, as they are not willing to sacrifice the social connection fostered by smoking together.  It may take a little planning, but talk with your significant other about other ways you might connect on a smoke-free basis– such as going out to a smoke-free restaurant or taking in a movie.

For women, the social pressures often put upon them with family, work, and social relationships/obligations can be a huge barrier to stopping smoking; however, the health benefits from stopping will make it pay off, and you may actually find that you cope better in the other aspects of your life when you are smoke-free.

Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated more than 50,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org