Why can't I stop smoking cigarettes?

Christoph Kröger is a psychologist and psychotherapist. He heads the Tobacco Addiction Research Group at the Institute for Therapy Research in Munich and has already developed several smoking cessation programs. In an interview with Süddeutsche.de, he explains how everyone has to find their own way out of addiction and when you can call yourself a non-smoker.

Süddeutsche.de: The majority of smokers want - at least in principle - to quit smoking. What do you advise them to do?

Christoph Kröger: It's hard to say because every smoker is different. Everyone smokes for different reasons and has different motivations to quit. The first thing I would recommend is: "Try it alone. Make up your mind to stop. And stop." But without aids. Perhaps read a guidebook and find out more on the Internet - that will certainly be helpful. And to see if that works.

Sounds easy ...

But it is not. And often it doesn't work either. Because addiction was underestimated. Because the addiction is very great. It is like a suction in the sea. If you underestimate it because you think "I can swim well and I am strong", but you get sucked in anyway. Then you blame yourself. That easily leads to a vicious circle: You get stressed. And when you're under stress, it's harder not to smoke again.

So what to do if you can't get rid of nicotine on your own?

You have the best chances of getting away from cigarettes permanently in a behavioral group treatment. After a year, we have success rates of more than 30 percent with our courses. This is very good in a national and international comparison. Everyone in the group is in the same situation: smokers who want to quit. So you don't have to tackle your problem alone. If you get involved, you can motivate and learn from each other. The therapist brings the expert knowledge with him, supports and structures the group.

Where does behavior therapy start?

There is an ambivalence in every smoker: I would like to quit, but the cigarette is still good for me. You have to recognize that and ultimately accept it. It's hard to do it alone. In behavior therapy, the first thing you learn to appreciate is what you've got from smoking.

Appreciate? But don't I want to quit smoking?

Yes, but smoking also has a function. If you're not aware of why you're smoking and quitting, it can eventually catch up with you. Smoking, for example, is a social lubricant. You may suddenly notice that you no longer feel comfortable in certain situations without a cigarette. That something is missing. And what are they doing, for example. to cope with anger or stress? You should be aware of this beforehand. And then it is important to have a vision of the goal. For example, being a role model for your children, getting fitter or having more money to spare.

How does the therapy group help me with this?

In the group you will learn various strategies to overcome addiction. Everyone pulls out what is relevant to them. Breathing exercises, for example, help many people. But not all of them. A woman recently told how she manages to overcome the craving for a cigarette: She smells a full ashtray. The disgusting smell helps her not to smoke. Another prefers to pull on a straw and still others say: "I'm not stupid!" Everyone finds their own way.

Can medication also be a way?

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet that can make you a non-smoker just like that. Even the hardcore drug researchers no longer rely on a purely pharmacological treatment of addiction. Many hopes have been dashed in the past few years. Real abstinence cannot be achieved with medication. You can only get rid of an addiction with increased motivation and increased self-confidence. But drugs still have their place, for example as a motivational aid. Many people feel more comfortable with a "crutch". Nicotine replacement supplements can also limit weight gain in the beginning. They make quitting easier in the first phase and stabilize success. With more firmness and routine in not smoking, you can do without aids in the second step.

When can you say: "I am a non-smoker"?

If you have lasted a year without cigarettes, the chances of non-smoking are very high.