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Nicotine Cessation Tips

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WARNING: The below information is NOT MEDICAL ADVICE and you should IMMEDIATELY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN should you experience ANY condition or symptom that causes you concern or alarm, including continuing depression. The information provided is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your physician. Do not rely upon any information on this list to replace individual consultations with your doctor or other qualified health care provider. Nicotine's cycle of addiction

The Law of Addiction (Video) - The Law of Addiction states, "administration of a drug to an addict will cause re-establishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance." Yes, just one powerful puff, dip or chew and you'll be faced with again enduring up to 72 hours of nicotine detox, by far the most challenging period of recovery. We're simply not that strong. Adherence to a simple restatement of the Law of Addiction guarantees success to all. No nicotine just one day at a time ... "Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew."

Accept Who We Are: Real Drug Addicts (Video) - Nicotine dependency is every bit as real and permanent as alcoholism. An external chemical has caused your brain dopamine pathways to teach your deep inner mind that regular nicotine feedings are your #1 priority in life, more important than family, friends, eating, hostile weather, your health or your life. Your brain has grown millions of extra nicotinic receptors in at least eleven different regions. It is wired to function on your current level of nicotine intake (tolerance). Why play games? Treating a true addiction as though some "nasty little habit" capable of manipulation, change or control is a recipe for relapse. There is no such thing as "just one" (video). Recovery truly is an all or nothing proposition.

Calm Your Deep Inner Mind - The primitive subconscious mind (the lizard brain) falsely sees ending all nicotine use as though committing suicide or starving ourselves to death. It does not think, plan or plot against us but simply reacts to the years of input it has received from the mind's priorities teacher, the brain's dopamine pathways, pathways long ago taken hostage by nicotine. Use your conscious thinking mind to calm and reassure the lizard brain, especially in the fleeting seconds before dosing off into sleep. They are precious communication moments where the two draw near.

Measuring Victory (Video) - Forget about quitting "forever." Like attempting the seemingly impossible task of eating an entire cow or steer, it's the biggest psychological bite imaginable. Instead, work hard at adopting a more manageable "one steak at a time," or better yet "one day at a time" or hour at a time recovery philosophy for measuring victory. If you insist on seeing success only in terms of quitting forever then on which day will you celebrate? Who is coming to that party? Why not celebrate every day of healing and freedom.

Recovery Phases - (1) Physical nicotine withdrawal peaks by day three and is substantially complete within 10 days to two weeks. Once you stop using all nicotine, the amount remaining in your bloodstream will be cut by half every two hours. Within 72 hours, 100% of nicotine and 90% of the chemicals nicotine breaks down into will have passed from your body. During this period it is normal to feel de-sensitized. But your brain is working hard to restore natural neuro-chemical sensitivities. Be patient. (2) Subconscious smoking trigger/cue reconditioning normally peaks during the first week, also about day 3. All but remote, infrequent, holiday or seasonal smoking triggers are extinguished within a month. (3) The final phase of recovery, conscious thought fixation, is the least intense yet longest. Although at times nearly impossible to see and appreciate, with each passing day thoughts of wanting to use nicotine gradually grow fewer, shorter in duration and generally less intense. Within a few months they will become the exception not the rule, as you will gradually start to develop an expectation of going entire days without once "thinking" about wanting to use nicotine.

Withdrawal Symptoms - As strange as it sounds, withdrawal symptoms are good not bad for they are true signs of healing. Within reason it is fairly safe to blame most of what you'll feel during the first three days on quitting. But after that you need to listen closely to your body and if concerned get seen and evaluated. If you must, blame them on where you have been, not where you are going.

Possible Hidden Conditions - Each puff of smoke contained more than 500 different gases and 3,500 different particles. One or more of these 4,000 chemicals may have been masking an underlying hidden health problem such as a thyroid condition (iodine) or breathing problems including asthma (bronchiodialiators). Cigarette chemicals may also have been interacting with medications you were taking and an adjustment may be necessary. Stay alert and get seen if at all concerned.

Emotional Recovery (Video) - Chemical dependency upon nicotine was likely the most intense, repetitive, dependable and destructive relationship you have ever known. It infects every aspect of life. Be prepared to experience a normal sense of emotional loss. Expect to travel through and experience six different emotional phases: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, (5) acceptance, and (6)complacency.

Quitting Methods - Those standing to profit by selling quitting products paint cold turkey quitting as almost impossible with few succeeding. Take your own poll. What you will discover is that most of all long-term ex-smokers quit smoking cold turkey. Look at this July 2013 Gallup Poll or take your own poll. Not only is it our most productive quitting method, it is fast, free and safe. But quitting cold -- in ignorance and darkness -- can be frightening. When combined with education, skills development and ongoing support, no quitting product comes close. Not only do cold turkey quitters avoid potential medication side effects, they do not get hooked on the cure (nearly 40% of all nicotine gum users are chronic long-term users of at least 6 months). All pharmacology products share a common feature. They delay brain neuronal re-sensitization to varying degrees. What it means is that there is almost always some level of back-end re-adjustment, once they stop using the product, where they are left feeling temporarily de-sensitized.

Record Your Motivations (Video) - Once in the heat of battle, it is normal for the mind to quickly forget many of the reasons that motivated us to commence recovery. Write yourself a loving reminder letter, carry it with you, and make it your first line of defense - a motivational tool that you can pull out during moments of challenge. As with achievement in almost all human endeavors, the wind beneath your recovery wings will not be strength or willpower but robust dreams and desires. Keep those dreams vibrant, on center-stage and calming the impulsive lizard brain and no circumstance will deprive you of glory.

Do Not Skip Meals - Each puff of nicotine was our spoon, releasing stored fats into our bloodstream. It allowed us to skip meals without experiencing wild blood-sugar swing symptoms such as an inability to concentrate (mind fog) or hunger related anxieties. We must relearn to properly fuel our body by spreading out our normal daily calorie intake more evenly. Eat small, healthy and often.

Three Days of Natural Juices - Unless diabetic, drink plenty of natural acidic fruit juice the first three days. Cranberry is excellent. Acidic juices will not only aid in more quickly removing the alkaloid nicotine but will help stabilize blood sugars and avoid needless symptoms. Take care beyond three days as juices can be rather fattening. If diabetic, talk to our doctor about a diet rich in foods low on the glycemic index, foods converted to glucose more slowly, that will leave you feeling fuller longer.

Weight Control (Video) - We would need to gain at least 75 extra pounds in order to equal the health risks associated with smoking one pack-a-day. Eat vegetables and fruits instead of candies, chips and pastries to help avoid weight gain. Engage in some form of moderate daily exercise if at all concerned about weight gain. Keep in mind that you can expect a substantial increase in overall lung function within just 90 days of quitting. It will aid in engaging in extended periods of brisk physical activity, in shedding pounds, and building cardiovascular endurance.

Stress Related Anxieties (Video)- Contrary to popular thinking, using nicotine does not relieve stress but only nicotine's own absence. Nicotine is an alkaloid. Stress is an acid-producing event capable of quickly neutralizing the body's nicotine reserves. We actually added early withdrawal to every stressful event. New quitters often discover an amazing sense of calm during crisis. In handling stress during this temporary period of readjustment called "quitting," practice slow deep breathing while focusing your mind on your favorite object, place or person to the exclusion of other thoughts.

Quitting for Others (Video) - We cannot quit for others. It must be our gift to us. Quitting for a child, spouse, parent, friend or doctor creates a natural sense of deprivation that is likely to ultimately result in relapse. If quitting for another person, how will an addict's junkie-mind respond the first time that person disappoints us?

Attitude - A positive can-do attitude is important to both the conscious thinking mind and the lizard brain, which controls of the body's fight or flight panic responses. Take pride in each hour of healing and freedom, and in each challenge overcome. Celebrate the full and complete victory each day of freedom and healing reflects. The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely do-able. Yes you can!

Patience (Video) - Years of smoking nicotine conditioned us to be extremely impatient, at least when it came to our addiction. A deprived nicotine addict could inhale a puff of nicotine and have it arrive in the brain and release dopamine within 8 to 10 seconds, and oral nicotine users within minutes. Realize the importance of patience to successful recovery. Baby steps, just one hour, challenge and day at a time and then celebrate.

Keeping or Carrying Cigarettes, Cigars, Chew, Dip, Snus, NRT or E-cigs (Video) - Get rid of all cigarettes. Keeping a stash of cigarettes makes as much sense as someone on suicide watch keeping a loaded gun handy just to prove they can. Toying with a 50% chance of depriving ourselves of 5,000 sunrises isn't a game. Build in some delay. Fully commit to going the distance and seeing what it's like to awaken to new expectations of a nicotine-free life.

Caffeine/Nicotine Interaction (Video) - Amazingly, nicotine somehow doubles the rate by which the body depletes caffeine. Studies have found that the caffeine user's blood-caffeine level will rise to 203% of normal baseline if no intake reduction is made when quitting. This interaction is not a problem for any caffeine user who can handle a doubling of their of normal caffeine intake without experiencing symptoms. But consider a modest caffeine intake reduction, of up to one-half, if troubled by additional anxieties, difficulty relaxing or trouble getting to sleep.

Subconscious Nicotine Use Triggers - We conditioned our subconscious mind to expect nicotine replenishment when encountering certain locations, times, events, people or emotions. Be prepared for each such cue to trigger a brief crave episode. Encountering a trigger cannot generate relapse unless nicotine enters the bloodstream. Take heart, most triggers are reconditioned and extinguished by a single encounter during which the subconscious mind fails to receive the expected result - nicotine. See each crave episode as an opportunity to receive a reward, to reclaim yet another aspect of life.

Crave Episodes Less than Three Minutes - In contrast to conscious thought fixation (the "nice juicy steak" type thinking that can last as long as you have the ability to maintain your focus), no subconsciously triggered crave episode will last longer than three minutes.

Time Distortion Symptom - Nicotine cessation causes serious time distortion. Although no crave episode will last longer than three minutes, to a quitter the minutes can feel like hours. Keep a clock or wristwatch handy to maintain honest perspective.

crave episode craves chart

Crave Episode Frequency - The "average" number of crave episodes (each less than three minutes) experienced by the "average" quitter on their most challenging day of recovery is six episodes on day three. That's a total of 18 minutes of challenge on your most challenging day. But what if you are not "average?" What if you established and must encounter twice as many nicotine-feeding cues as the "average" quitter? That's up to 36 minutes of significant challenge. Can you handle up to 36 minutes, during which your primitive inner lizard mind rings an anxiety alarm, in order to reclaim your mind, health and life? Absolutely! We all can. Be prepared for a small spike in crave episodes on day seven as you celebrate your first full week of freedom from nicotine. Yes, for most of us, nicotine use was part of every celebration. Also stay alert for subtle differences between crave-triggers. For example, the Sunday newspaper is much thicker and may have required three cigarettes to read instead of just one.

Understanding the Big Crave - Within ten days the average quitter will be experiencing just 1.4 crave episodes per day. After that you'll soon begin to experience entire days without encountering a single un-reconditioned subconscious crave-trigger. If a later crave episode ever feels far more intense, it is likely that it has been some time since your last significant challenge and you've dropped your guard and defenses a bit. It can feel as though you have been sucker punched. If one does occur, see the distance between challenges as the wonderful sign of healing the incident reflects.

Crave Coping Techniques - One coping method is to practice slow deep breathing when experiencing a crave episode. Try briefly clearing your mind of all needless chatter by focusing on your favorite person, place or thing. Another popular three minute crave coping exercise is to say your ABCs while associating each letter with your favorite food, person or place. For example, the letter "A" is for grandma's hot apple pie. "B" is for warm buttered biscuits. You may never reach the challenging letter "Q."

Embracing Craves - Another coping technique is to mentally reach out and embrace your crave. A crave cannot cut you, burn you, kill you, or make you bleed. Try to be brave just once. In your mind, wrap your arms around the crave's anxiety energy and then sense as it slowly fizzles and dies while within your embrace. Yes, another trigger bites the dust, and victory is once again yours as you've reclaimed yet another aspect of life!

Confront Your Crave Triggers (Video) - Recognize the fact that everything you did as a nicotine user will soon be comfortably done as an ex-user. Meet, greet and defeat your triggers. Don't hide from them. You need not give up anything when quitting except nicotine. Within two weeks you will begin to realize that and everything you did while under its influence can be done as well or better without it.

Alcohol Use (Video) - Alcohol use is associated with about 50% of all relapses. Be extremely careful with early alcohol use during the first couple of weeks of recovery. Using an inhibition diminishing substance and then surrounding ourselves with people using nicotine, while still engaged in early withdrawal, is a recipe for relapse. Get your quitting feet under you first. If you do use alcohol, once ready to challenge your drinking triggers, consider breaking the challenge down into manageable trigger segments. Try drinking at home first without nicotine users around, go out with them but refrain from drinking, or consider spacing your drinks further apart, or drinking water or juice between drinks. Have an escape plan and a backup, and be fully prepared to use both (also see video "Can people quit smoking and still drink alcohol?")

No Legitimate Excuse for Relapse (Video) - Fully recognize that nicotine use cannot solve any crisis. Accept the fact that there is absolutely no legitimate excuse for relapse, including friction with others, a horrible day, boredom, significant stress, holidays, alcohol use, an auto accident, financial crisis, the end of a relationship, job loss, a terrorist attack, a hurricane, the birth of a baby, or the eventual inevitable death of those we love most. Try and visualize yourself not smoking or using oral nicotine products through each and every step needed to overcome the most difficult challenge your mind can possibly imagine. Yes you can!

Conscious Thought Fixation - Unlike a less than three-minute subconscious crave episode, we can consciously fixate on any thought of wanting to smoke, chew or suck nicotine for as long as we are able to maintain our concentration. Don't try to run or hide from rationalizations of "wanting" but instead place each thought under honest light. Flavor? There are zero taste buds inside human lungs. Just one puff, dip or chew? For us nicotine addicts, one is too many and a thousand never enough. Treat nicotine dependency recovery as if it were no different than alcoholism. Don't debate with yourself about wanting "just one." Instead, ask yourself how you'd feel about going back to "all of them," back to your old level of consumption or greater. Tear down your wall of denial.

Reward Yourself - Consider putting aside the money that you would have spent buying nicotine and treat yourself to something you really want after a week, month or year. If unable to save, reward yourself by quickly climbing from that deep smoker's rut and spending more time in places where you couldn't smoke, engaging in activities lasting longer than an hour, and by ever so slightly pushing your normal limits of physical endurance in order to sample the amazing healing happening within.

Fully Commit To Going the Distance - Don't be afraid to tell others how good it's starting to feel being free from nicotine's grip. Fully commit to your recovery while taking pride in each and every hour and day of healing and freedom from nicotine, in each challenge overcome, each smoking trigger extinguished and each aspect of life reclaimed. Shed all fears of success. Although you've forgotten what "home" is like, there is absolutely nothing bad about eventually going entire days without once wanting for nicotine. Ending chemical slavery is nothing to fear.

Avoid All Crutches (Video) - A crutch is any form of recovery reliance that is leaned upon so heavily that if quickly removed would likely result in loss of support and relapse. Leaning heavily upon someone commencing recovery at the same time as you can be dangerous. Although great to have them along, if looking to others for support, it is far wiser to pick an already recovered ex-smoker, ex-oral nicotine user, or never-user.

The Vivid and Disturbing Smoking, Chewing, Dipping or Vaping Dream (Video) - Be prepared for extremely vivid dreams as tobacco odors released by healing mouth tissues, or being swept up bronchial tubes by rapidly healing cilia, come in contact with a healing and enhanced senses of smell and taste. See it as the wonderful sign of healing it reflects and nothing more. It has no profound meaning beyond healing.

See Marketing as Bait - Your recovery means thousands upon thousands in lost profits to the nicotine addiction industry. They do not want to lose you. See all nicotine product advertising and the hundreds of neatly aligned packs and cartons in stores for what they truly reflect - bait! Hidden within the pretty colored boxes, tins and pouches, and coated by more than 600 flavor additives, is the chemical most dependency experts consider earth's most captivating.

It's Never Too Late - Regardless of how long you've been hooked, how old you are, or how badly you've damaged your body, it's never too late to arrest your dependency, become its master, and commence the most intense period of healing your body have ever known. But damage from that next nicotine fix is what should concern us. Not only does nicotine break down into one of the most potent cancer causing agents of all, NNK, it is a super toxin that drop for drop is more deadly than diamondback rattlesnake venom, arsenic, strychnine or cyanide. Just 2-3 drops of pure nicotine on the skin (40 to 60mg) is sufficient to kill a 160-pound human. The average smoker introduces 1mg of nicotine into the bloodstream with each cigarette, an amount sufficient to kill a one-pound rat. Is it any wonder that each nicotine fix eats away more of the brain's gray matter, or damages or destroys a developing fetus?

Study Nicotine Users Closely (Video) - Study them. They are not smoking, chewing or sucking nicotine to tease you. They do so because they must, in order to replenish a constantly falling blood-serum nicotine level that declines by one-half every two hours. Most nicotine is delivered into the bloodstream while on autopilot. What cue triggered the public feeding you're now witnessing? Watch acid-producing events such as stress or alcohol quickly neutralize their body's nicotine reserves. Witness the endless mandatory cycle of replenishment.

Thinking vs. Wanting - There is a major distinction between thinking about using nicotine and wanting to smoke, chew, dip. It's easy to confuse the two. After years of smoking you should expect to notice smokers (especially in movies) and smell their smoke but it doesn't necessarily mean that you want to smoke. As for thoughts of wanting, with each passing day they'll gradually grow shorter in duration, generally less intense and a bit further apart. Eventually they'll grow so infrequent that when one does arrive it'll bring a smile to your face, as it will be a reminder of the amazing journey you once made.

Non-Smoker or Ex-Smoker (Video) - What should you call yourself? Although it's normal to want to be a non-smoker there is a major distinction between a never-smoker and an ex-smoker. Only the ex-smoker can grow complacent, use nicotine and relapse.

Complacency (Video) - Complacency can destroy healing and glory. The ingredients for relapse are a failing memory of why we quit and the early challenges, rewriting the law of addiction to exempt or exclude ourselves, and an excuse such as stress, celebration, illness, finances, war, death, or birth of a baby.

Relapse - There are only two good reasons to take a puff, chew or dip once you quit. You decide you want to go back to your old level of consumption until it either cripples or kills you, or leaves you with so little remaining brain gray matter that remembering anything you just read becomes nearly impossible, or you decide you really enjoy withdrawal and want to make it last forever. So long as neither of these options appeals to you consider living an amazingly simple (notice I didn't say easy) alternative - no nicotine just one day at a time . Never Take Another Puff, Dip or Chew!

Breathe deep, hug hard, live long!


This tips list was complied by John R. Polito, Nicotine Cessation Educator and Director of WhyQuit.com, a free online nicotine dependency recovery forum, primarily using articles written by Joel Spitzer, WhyQuit's Director of Education (WhyQuit.com/joel) and research available online through the National Institutes of Health (www.PubMed.gov). These tips may be freely printed and shared by physicians, their patients and all attempting to break nicotine's grip upon their mind health and life. The below copyright seeks only to prevent any attempt to charge for copies of these tips or profit from them, directly or indirectly, by donation or otherwise. john@whyquit.com

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Page updated June 7, 2015 by John R. Polito