Dr. Adam L. Front, Psychologist


Dr. Adam's Blog

You can quit smoking today!

Posted on June 1, 2017 at 3:05 AM

Yesterday, May 31, 2017 was "World No Tobacco Day," started by the World Health Organization in 1988.  Coincidentally, I personally quit smoking earlier that same year.  If you smoke, quitting may be the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.  The insidiousness of nicotine addiction makes this very difficult, however.  The urge to smoke, if you are a smoker (or a nicotine addict, if you prefer not to sugar-coat it) gets under your skin and can be so overwhelming that some say nicotine is more addictive than heroin. In fact, people who are addicted to other substances often minimize the seriousness of their nicotine addiction in comparison to their alcohol or other drug addiction. It is estimated that over 480,000 deaths a year are attributable to tobacco (including second-hand smoke and accidental deaths). Alcohol is estimated to cause nearly 90,000 deaths per year, including both chronic and acute medical effects as well as alcohol-related accidents. Deaths from all other drugs (prescription as well as street drugs) are estimated to be about 40,000 per year. Given the relative mortality risks, it would be clear to most that it is at least as important to quit tobacco use as it is to quit the other substances, despite the often far more dramatically life-damaging consequences of alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, and other substances compared to those of cigarettes and other tobacco.

The reality is that those who quit drinking alcohol and using other addictive substances increase their risk or relapse to those substances if they continue to smoke when they get clean and sober. The habit pattern linkage of smoking with other substance use is considerable, leading to increased cravings for those other substances. In addition, the same addiction trigger in the brain that is tripped by other drugs is also tripped by nicotine, again leading to an increase in cravings for those other substances.

Many who consider or attempt quitting tobacco feel that it will be too difficult and uncomfortable to withstand the withdrawal that occurs and the cravings that persist after detox is accomplished. Many turn to other forms of nicotine replacement such as nicotine gum, trans-dermal patches, and vaporizers (“vape pens”). These substitutes, however, only perpetuate the dependence upon nicotine and continue the problem, not to mention continuing to line the pockets of corporations intent on making a profit from the misery of others; tobacco companies and the pharmaceutical industry both profit on nicotine replacement “therapies” such as nicotine gum, patches, lozenges and vaporizers.

An interesting fact makes it clear that these “therapies,” which are expensive, largely ineffective (many who use these alternative nicotine delivery systems relapse to smoking) and in the case of vaporizers possibly as deadly or perhaps more harmful than cigarettes, are really unnecessary. The fact to which I am referring is this: while cravings for alcohol, street drugs and addictive and abusable prescription drugs generally last about 15-20 minutes before they pass, the craving for nicotine lasts only two minutes. Period. The urge will return multiple times a day for the first few days, but if one distracts him or herself for just that two minutes each time the urge strikes, in about 3 days the body is fully detoxed. DO deep breathing, run up and down the stairs until you have to fall down on the couch, wath a funny video or two, chew on carrot sticks or toothpicks, call someone who supports and udnerstands your nicotine addiction and can offer supportive fedback (remember that not everyone who supports you knows what kind of support you need at tthose moments).

The biggest factor in successfully quitting is really being ready to do it.  No reservations about going back to it once you are "cured," no illusions about being able to smoke "just one here and there," you really have to want the monkey off your back.  A big part of this is to prepare yourself, to really be ready and willing to quit. Developing a set of images that represent your own motivations to quit are important. You will want to find the most vivid images and representations you can for both the negative consequences that you are giving up by quitting as well as similarly vivid or compelling images of the good things that you are attaining by quitting. These, along with distractions, will get you through each of the two minute intervals you will face over those first few days. And once you have quit, never let your guard down. After nearly 30 years tobacco-free, I know that if I allowed myself to have even one cigarette at one of those moments when still, after all this time, someone's freshly lit cigarette smells enticing, it would not even be a week until I returned to being a pack-a-day smoker.

You can quit. If you are disgusted by the smell, the lack of tasting your food, the fuzzy-headed feeling, the feeling and taste in your mouth when you awaken each day, only to light up again, perhaps before you are even fully awake, hang onto those unpleasurable images, perceptions and ideas, even after you feel better Please know that it is possible to quit and that you will feel so much better once you do. Pass the word to friends who smoke also – two minutes at a time is all it will take. Best of health to you!

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