Inability to Focus

The inability to focus is often one of the most common complaints for people who are quitting smoking. Many people can’t determine exactly why concentration issues occur within the quitting process. There are three main reasons that concentration is frequently lost when individuals quit smoking. If you can develop an understanding of all three of these before you quit, or even while you are quitting, you will stand a much better chance of quitting successfully.


Nicotine Acts Like Brain Fuel

Many smokers feel that the slight stimulant ability of nicotine acts like fuel for the human brain, but this is generally not true. While the first few times you smoke a cigarette may give a slight burst of energy and “fuel,” this wears off very quickly. Tolerance then begins to creep up, and you become truly addicted to nicotine. Unfortunately, in addiction, the brain produces additional receptors to handle the chemicals sent through it. These receptors, in turn, become entirely dependent on the substance you are addicted to (in this case, nicotine). A cycle occurs where you begin to smoke just to bring your brain back to an even level, rather than to think more efficiently. This actually tells the brain to be lazy without a cigarette; smoking the cigarette just brings you back to the same level you were at before you began smoking.

Thoughts About Cigarettes

You must also consider that smoking leads to obsessive thoughts about smoking. This means that the quitting process can trigger intense concentration on smoking, cigarettes, and quenching those cravings. This takes away resources within the brain that would normally be dedicated to other thought processes. Think of your brain like a computer; it has limited ability to process “thoughts.” If you are busy thinking about how to keep from smoking, it will likewise be difficult to concentrate in general. Food cravings also have this effect on the brain, especially when you are hungry. For some time, it can seem as if you can’t think of anything else other than eating.

Your preoccupation is likely to be at its worst within the first 72 hours. This is the period of time in which nicotine fully flushes from the system. After this point, many people notice a significant reduction in symptoms.


Pavlovian Conditioning

Pavlov conditioning suggests that the brain makes links between different experiences. It states that smoking is often connected to everyday activities. One great example of this is the connection between smoking while drinking alcohol or coffee. While the cigarette really isn’t any better during these times, your brain may connect the experiences you have while doing both with the other. For example, if you are out celebrating with friends, drinking martinis and smoking, when you think of smoking, you will think of having fun with friends. Much of this is subconscious, but the effects can be very strong. People often smoke before using the washroom, when they wake, before they sleep, when they sit down after work, and in any other number of situations. When you engage in these activities without smoking, the experience can seem lackluster. Much of this can be attributed to the lack of chemicals that the brain has grown used to. Instead of assuming that you need to smoke, choose to power through your cravings. You will find that within no more than 3 weeks, your brain has largely reset itself to the way it was before you smoked.

In short, while you will probably suffer slightly from concentration issues for at least part of your quitting process, this is a temporary experience. Focus on your coping skills to get you through the first few weeks, and things will lighten up dramatically for you. Your brain and body needs time to heal from smoking; you owe it to yourself to allow it to do so.

8 Comments

  1. I have been pretty much smoke free for just about 24 hours, with the exception of 2 puffs about 2 hours ago. It made me nauseous and I still feel that way. However, the sick stomach is nothing in comparison to the loss of concentration and headache. Glad I read the article, at least i know there is an end at some point.

  2. Haven’t smoked in 6 weeks… maybe slightly more… STILL have some difficulty concentrating and focusing. I did smoke for more than 30 years though… so am I expected to not be able to focus for a year or more?? Is quitting REALLY worth it if you don’t care about health issues?

  3. I haven’t had a cigarette since Wednesday last week, 2nd day was terrible not because I craved but because I felt unwell due to the lack of nicotine. I’ve been using a e-cig and honestly didn’t believe they would help me stop but it has, I have 6mg of nicotine in the e liquid which is classed as low that lasts me quite a few days, so for 20 cigs a day to none I am very shocked because I wasn’t too bothered it was more to cut down. I don’t want a cig at all but I am definitely struggling to focus, I also have bad headaches but once the first couple of weeks are out the way I’ve been told by many I start to feel much better and concentration is normal.
    Anyone struggling I definitely would recommend getting an e-cig or e-mod which is what’s I use. Definitely cheaper than smoking and so much more healthy. Today I

  4. I stopped smoking almost 3 weeks ago and I can barely get anything done at work. I think this writer is GREATLY MINIMIZING this effect of quitting. This by far the worst part about quitting for me – I can’t do the things like work that I have to do. If by “you will probably suffer slightly from concentration issues” you mean pulling your hair out and banging your desk because can’t complete a thought, then yeah sure. I’m so annoyed by misinformation about quitting smoking that underplays how damn hard it is. NOT HELPFUL!

  5. BS!! I’ve been Nicotine free for 3 months and I feel lost and unable to concentrate daily. It is a struggle everyday, not to stay off the cigs but to stay focused on anything. Don’t let them fool you. Quitting smoking after many years is not easy and I feel that there are many mental factors that have not been fully studied or understood yet. I will keep fighting to stay nicotine free but the addiction is stronger than most people think it is.

  6. This article is kind of okay, the experience is hardly only about “obsessing about smoking”, since the other half is quite literally feeling like having a huge dark cloud in your head for days… Last time I quit smoking I taught it will never go away, that this is my life now, but soon enough after some two weeks I woke up one day, and my brain was sharper than ever. This fog I’d describe like being in a new country for the first time, it’s that foggy feeling of your brain trying to adjust to a whole new environment. In this regard I agree with the Pavlovian Conditioning and that quitting cold turkey does, in fact, send the brain into a complete reboot, much like visiting a new country, where it needs some time to adjust, some 2-3 days in a new country, some 2 weeks in a smoke-free world.

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