Everything you need to know about oral fixation
Let’s face it, giving up smoking is not just about waving goodbye to nicotine. From socially puffing over a drink with friends, to that much-needed 10-minute break from work that only smokers get, there’s more to stubbing that last cigarette for good than you think.
Ask any ex-smokers that dropped the bad habit to bust the myths for you – from emptying out the snack cupboard to finding yourself chewing on a pencil or even starting to bite your nails, oral fixation often becomes a right pain when trying to quit.
More recent studies, however, have shown that, for many people, smoking is a ‘socially-soothing’ activity: the same way most of us go on our phones to remove the awkwardness of an uncomfortable social situation, lighting up a cigarette can give smokers the same form of escapism. Whilst the idea of missing that hand-to-mouth gesture seems majorly odd, ex-smokers reveal that the habit in itself becomes a routine of comfort.
This results in approximately 40%* of quitters relapsing and going back to smoking, especially on boozy weekends and hot summer days. Beyond craving nicotine, many people crave that ‘social lubricant’, according to the National Director of tobacco programs for the American Lung Association Bill Blatt.
However, the oral fixation associated with smoking is not only a social matter; according to Healthline, it can manifest as a response to stress, which is often temporarily eased by the gesture of puffing. ‘It’s already clear that many of us are severely stressed by the struggle to keep up with the rate of change in our lives, and one of the consequences of that stress is anxiety”, social researcher and author Hugh Mackay tells Vogue Australia in a piece talking about the fact that millennials are the most anxious generation to date. Consequently, Millennials are the most frequent ‘occasional smokers’ according to a study conducted by Civic Science.
With nicotine essentially being a mood-altering drug, smoking causes the release of dopamine – a chemical that causes temporary feelings of pleasure and relaxation. Smokers Helpline coaches have highlighted that the feelings of relief associated with smoking are actually just ‘short-term symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine’. The gesture associated with smoking can feel comforting in itself due to its familiarity, especially to those who have smoked on multiple occasions – which is where the problem with oral fixation appears.
Having something to replace the motions associated with smoking whilst trying to quit can be a game-changer when you find yourself craving the gesture of puffing a cigarette. Long story short, the end-game is to stop harassing strangers in the bar to give you just one cigarette when you’re three wines down and cannot think straight anymore.