Ramadan: Ideal time to rid oneself of addictions

The Holy Month of Ramadan is a period when the faithful refrain from indulging in food and water from dawn to dusk. It is also a time when they give up their addictions, such as  smoking cigarettes or drinking cups of coffee or tea, for the 15 or more hours of fasting each day. Some people who are addicted to smoking or caffeinated drinks often find it far easier to abstain from food and water during the fasting period than to forego of  their daily fix. But Ramadan is an ideal time to get rid of harmful addictions such as smoking, or to moderate the intake of caffeine.

However, withdrawing from an addictive substance is not an easy task as the body reacts strongly to any abrupt and drastic reduction in the intake of addictive substances. While some of these withdrawal reactions are manageable, others can affect daily life, mobility and mental health.

Tea, coffee, carbonated drinks, energy drinks — all of these fluids have various levels of caffeine. In small amounts caffeine is considered harmless and even boosts health and metabolism. But consuming caffeinated drinks regularly and throughout the day can lead to an addiction that is hard to get rid off. Weaning people off caffeine can result in  withdrawal symptoms such as tiredness, lethargy, irritability, lack of concentration, insomnia, anxiety and dizziness. Some caffeine addicts complain of severe headaches during the initial days of Ramadan until they get used to the routine

To cope with withdrawal symptoms of caffeine, start practicing early; caffeine addicts must reduce their daily intake of caffeine well before the onset of Ramadan. Another way is to drink a strong cup of coffee or tea at suhoor during the early days of fasting, and then gradually bring down the quantity and concentration of the caffeine drink consumed.

Similarly, smoking is something people get easily addicted to, often without regard to the health consequences of their addiction. While chain smoking might be considered more of an addiction than one cigarette a day – even that single smoke counts as addiction if you cannot do without it.

Withdrawal from nicotine — the substance that causes people to get addicted to smoking cigarettes — can also bring about a craving for smoking, so much so that smokers often end up chain- smoking after breaking their fast and thereby inhale a lot of smoke within a very short period of time. Another side effect from nicotine withdrawal is the tendency to binge on carb-heavy foods that often end up in causing weight gain during the month of fasting.

Weaning oneself off nicotine is considered even more difficult than withdrawing from a regular use of caffeine. Smokers who stop during Ramadan may experience withdrawal symptoms for 3 to 5 days after stopping, including irritability, anger and difficulty in concentrating.

However, the fact that most people do control smoking for over 15 hours during the fasting period is proof that they can refrain from smoking when they are determined to do so, and a similar earnest attempt can lead to quitting for good. Doctors also point out that long hours of fasting leads to a drop in the nicotine level in the blood making it much easier for smokers to quit. So this Ramadan, make a resolution to quit  smoking, as nothing is stronger than the will to quit smoking

Cigarette smoking is on the wane in many countries, and tobacco companies, eager to keep their vice-like grip on smoking addicts, have in recent years been promoting the notion that traditional shisha, or its modern counterpart vaping, is a healthier option to smoking cigarettes.

Ramadan is a time when many people traditionally gather for iftar at diwaniyas or restaurants and engage in socializing after ending the daily fast by smoking shisha for hours at a stretch. With many people abandoning cigarette and  shisha smoking due to its negative health aspects, the tobacco industry has slyly been promoting vaping or using e-cigarettes as a ‘harmless’ alternative since it involves no smoke inhalation.

Pernicious promotion of vaping by the tobacco industry include labeling it as a ‘lifestyle choice’ in much the same way that they once labeled cigarette smoking as a lifestyle choice. Some of the ‘perks’ of vaping claimed by tobacco lobby include the ability to “enjoy a smoke-free life”, and that “Second-hand smoke is a thing of the past” or the slogan “No ash, no fire”.

But how true are these ‘harmless’ vaping claims promoted by the tobacco industry?

Vaping is the use of e-cigarettes in place of smoking cigarettes. These cigarette lookalikes basically consist of a cartridge, a battery and an LED light. When turned on, the e-cig heats up the liquid that is housed in the cartridge; this produces an aerosol mist or vapor, which the smoker inhales or ‘vapes’, an alternate term that denotes the lack of combustion.

The ingredients of the vaping liquid vary, but mostly include nicotine (though there are some nicotine free varieties), as well as chemicals such as propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin to vaporize the nicotine, in addition to chemical additives and synthetic flavoring.

Despite the tobacco lobby’s claims do not be fooled into thinking that vaping is without risk or that you can now vape without worrying about its health consequences. In the first place, nicotine is a drug and a powerfully addictive one at that. Moreover, a new study shows that inhaling the drug either through conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes contributes to cancers and heart diseases.

Also there is sufficient evidence to show that e-cigarettes deliver some toxic stuff of their own such as formaldehyde (a known carcinogen), nitrosamines (linked to cancer) and lead (a neurotoxin). Though the toxicant levels of e-cigs may be lower than in cigarette smoke,  levels of formaldehyde and metals have been found to be comparable to or higher than those found in conventional cigarettes. Silicate particles, which are a cause of lung disease, have also been found in e-cigarette vapors.

The claim that since e-cigarettes do not burn and there is no smoke, the question of harm from second-hand smoke cannot arise is  basically flawed. A recent study in Germany found that vaping worsened indoor air quality, specifically by increasing the concentration of nicotine, particulate matter and aluminum compounds that have been linked to lung and cardiovascular diseases and cancer among other health effects.

So, how do you try to get rid of smoking addiction this Ramadan?

Use nicotine patches if you need to during the month of Ramadan as these can control the withdrawal symptoms and help quit the unhealthy habit in time.

Supplement unhealthy food at the end of the fast with healthier options like carrots, cucumber and other fibrous food to avoid over indulging on the carb-heavy iftar favorites.

Start the iftar meal with soup to help feel fuller and avoid carbohydrate-rich food.