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Time to Quit Smoking?

by John R. Polito, founder of WhyQuit and author of "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home"

smokingWant to quit smoking but feeling unable? Drug addiction is about the brain's "pay attention" dopamine pathways being taken hostage by an external chemical. These pathways were engineered to teach and reinforce species survival priorities associated with food, water, nurturing, accomplishment and reproduction. Enter nicotine, the most perfectly designed drug of addiction.

Nicotine not only fosters dopamine flow but turns off a key killjoy enzyme that prevents its cleanup. It results in a powerful "aaah" sensation within seconds of a puff that lingers far longer than normal. The entire event gets recorded in what may be the highest definition memory the mind can produce. Continued smoking by the new smoker causes these extremely salient memories to quickly pile up. They soon bury all remaining memory of life without it. The now dependent user becomes totally yet falsely convinced that life without nicotine isn't nearly as good, that it defines who they are, that it provides their edge in life.

As if that isn't enough, the brain's physiology fights back by growing millions of extra nicotinic-type acetylcholine receptors in at least eleven different brain regions, almost as if trying to more widely disburse arrival of the super-toxin nicotine. It's called "tolerance" and causes the new nicotine addict to need to smoke a bit more to achieve the previously remembered effect. Two cigarettes a day, five, ten, the brain grows additional receptors requiring the smoker to puff more, deeper, harder or hold it longer.

Now any attempt to stop using nicotine is met with a rising tide of powerful anxieties inside a mind left briefly de-sensitized to its own natural neurochemical flow. Rewired to function with nicotine present, the brain now needs time to reverse the process and down-regulate receptor counts.

As if that isn't enough, a never-ending cycle of nicotine replenishment causes the smoker to establish recorded nicotine replenishment patterns associated with smoking during various activities, at specific locations, at certain times, in the presence of particular people or when experiencing various emotions. This classical conditioning, like Pavlov's dogs salivating upon hearing a bell ring, must now be extinguished for each established cue. Encountering each trigger may generate a brief yet powerful anxiety episode lasting less than three minutes. But recovery time distortion can make the minutes feel like hours.

Nicotine addiction is about living a lie. It's about forgetting the amazingly calm and quiet mind we once called home. It's about "pay attention" pathways responding to dopamine overload by creating a new #1 priority in life - obtaining that next fix. The smoker may forget to take their vitamin or medicine, procrastinate regarding work, skip meals, family time, or even romance but they will not forget or skip that next mandatory feeding.

Key to enhancing your ability to return home is knowledge, some form of ongoing support and an appreciation that just one powerful puff of nicotine and relapse is all but assured. Like an alcoholic trying to toy with "just one sip," treating a true chemical addiction as though it were some "nasty little habit" is a recipe for relapse. We call it the "Law of Addiction" and if broken, all your hard work and dreams will again find themselves back behind bars.

Take your own poll of former smokers. Contrary to the assertions of those selling quitting aids, about 90% of all long-term successful ex-smokers quit smoking cold turkey. It's fast, clean, free and it works. But abrupt nicotine cessation doesn't mean quitting in ignorance and darkness. The Internet is loaded with free quality resources. When ready, simply type "quit smoking cold turkey" into your favorite search engine.

Remember, knowledge truly is power. Trying to quit in darkness when you can turn on the lights is like trying to land a plane without putting the wheels down. It can be done but why even try? In the end there's just one principle that if followed provides a 100% guarantee of success to all ... no nicotine just one day at a time, Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew!

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Written March 18, 2007 and last updated December 27, 2013 by John R. Polito