"What's the easy way to kick the smoking habit?"
This common smoker quitting question raises three concerns:
(1) Will the first sign of challenge frustrate their expectation that quitting should have been easy?
(2) Kicking a can takes seconds. Will the kicker be able to muster the patience needed to continue kicking until arrival of calm, comfort and contentment?
(3) Is a "real" drug addict setting themselves up for relapse and failure by seeing and treating a true chemical addiction as a habit?
Easy vs. Challenge
While normal to wish that quitting smoking was easy, it depends how "easy" is defined. Success has only one rule, the Law of Addiction. It states that: "Administration of a drug to an addict will cause re-establishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance."
In fact, brain scans show that just one puff when trying to quit results in up to half of the quitter's dopamine pathways becoming occupied by nicotine. Permanently compromised by nicotine long ago, these are the same brain "wanting" and urge pathways that make thoughts of giving up food or water (starvation) nearly unthinkable.
While most walk away from trying to cheat when quitting feeling like they've gotten away with it, it normally isn't long before they find their brain wanting, plotting to obtain or even begging for more.
Equating "easy" to a dream of near effortless success is the surest path to joining the half of adult smokers who continue to smoke themselves to death. That means successfully completing your slow suicide via cigarette smoke toxins an average of 13 years (male rate) to 14 years (female U.S. rate) prematurely.
Sadly, most smokers have amazingly little understanding of why they'll smoke that next cigarette or how to stop. Although understanding and mastering our addiction may not be easy, taking the time to at last turn on the lights is the surest way to destroy needless fears, minimize anxieties, foster realistic recovery expectations, sidestep common pitfalls and avoid nicotine relapse.
Fast vs. Recovery
Although not football, the desire to quickly kick your way to success is normal too. But beginning with unrealistic quit smoking expectations can quickly breed frustrations.
It takes about three months (12 weeks) to heal a fractured thighbone. Wearing a leg cast forces and compels recovery patience. Short of locking you up (which will only serve to delay meeting, greeting and extinguishing years of subconscious smoking cues) there is no quitting cast.
The common thread between all successful ex-smokers is that they each mustered the "one challenge" and "one day at a time" patience needed to begin doing easy time, so that they could arrive and reside on Easy Street.
For years, wanting and urges for more nicotine were instantly satisfied by inhaling a new supply. The collective influence of thousands of old replenishment memories have conditioned you to fear saying "no" to urges and craves.
The truth resides behind those memories. The truth is, healing and coming home is vastly more wonderful and far more do-able than your wanting for that next fix will suggest.
Talk about fast, nicotine's two-hour elimination half-life guarantees that with 72 hours of ending all use that you'll reside within a nicotine-free body, that your brain dopamine pathways will begin restoring natural sensitivities, and that you'll move beyond peak withdrawal. The worst will be over.
Talk about fast, within two weeks, the vast majority of your normal daily nicotine use cues will have been extinguished.
Unless you try and avoid life by locking yourself in a closet, you'll be able to wake, dress, eat, walk, talk, travel, work, shop and play without nicotine use-conditioning generating a less than 3 minute crave.
As for craves not lasting longer than 3 minutes, although normal smoking cessation time distortion or panic can make them feel far longer, they are good, not bad, as there's a huge prize at the end.
Just 3 minutes of patience and you get to reclaim a time, place, person, activity or emotion during which your subconscious mind had been trained to expect a new supply of nicotine. Keep a watch or clock handy as the body's fight or flight panic response can make minutes feel like hours.
Addiction's bars, you've been trapped for years behind the collective influence of thousands of old urge and crave memories. Each of those memories document how a rising tide of anxiety was then and there almost instantly silenced by inhaling more nicotine. How could you not fear quitting? It's entirely normal yet deadly.
Recovery is healing, not some quick forceful kick. The brain needs time to become nicotine-free, to re-sensitize and to restore receptor counts to normal (down-regulation of a4b2 nicotinic-type acetylcholine receptors). The subconscious needs time to silence years of use conditioning. The mind's emotions require time to come to terms with ending a long and highly dependent chemical relationship.
And your conscious thinking mind needs time to review, analyze and learn to laugh at the long list of use rationalizations it invented to explain that next mandatory nicotine feeding.
Why fear healing? Why fear a temporary journey of re-adjustment which leads to entire days where we never once think about wanting to use?
Habit vs. Addiction
When you look in the mirror do you see a "real" drug addict looking back? My name is John Polito and that's who I am, a "real" drug addict.
As real and permanent as alcoholism, enslaving the same brain dopamine pathways as seen in the alcoholic or the heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine addict, each year more than 5 million smokers smoke themselves to death.
Calling an addiction a habit is like referring to a child as a parent. For while nicotine addiction fosters subconscious feeding patterns, there is no rising tide of anxieties or other symptoms when we decide to stop using cuss words or begin using turn signals while driving.
Treating a true chemical addiction as though some nasty little habit is a recipe for perpetual relapse. There is no more critical step toward fostering a lasting recovery than in understanding and accepting who we are.
While I remain one puff away from this brain that is permanently grooved and wired for relapse again seeing nicotine as though food or water, I haven't had anything a quitter would consider a crave since November of 2001.
I love my quit. Being home remains wonderful. And the odds of getting to stay remain high so long as I never forget who I am. My name is John and I'm a comfortably recovered nicotine addict, one who remains one puff away from returning to three packs-a-day.
Where to start? If I were still using or just starting out I'd pour myself into Joel's Library - https://whyquit.com/joel/ - and not come out until far smarter than nicotine's influence upon my mind and life. Baby steps, just one lesson at a time, yes you can!
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,
John R. Polito
Nicotine Cessation Educator
How to Quit Smoking
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- WhyQuit.com - WhyQuit is the Internet's oldest forum devoted to the art, science and psychology of cold turkey quitting, the stop smoking method used by the vast majority of all successful long-term ex-smokers.
- Nicotine Addiction 101 - WhyQuit's basic guide to understanding nicotine dependency.
- Nicotine Cessation Topic Index - An alphabetical subject matter index to more than a thousand nicotine cessation articles, videos and support group discussions.
- Joel's Library - Joel Spitzer began presenting stop smoking clinics and seminars in 1976. WhyQuit's education director since 2000, Joel's Library is home to his life's work. It includes Joel's "Daily Quitting Lesson Guide," more than 100 original stop smoking articles, his free ebook "Never Take Another Puff," and to his ever growing collection of more than 400 stop smoking videos.
- "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home" - Written by John R. Polito, a former 30-year heavy smoker and WhyQuit's 1999 founder, Freedom from Nicotine shares the science underlying nicotine dependency and successful abrupt nicotine cessation.
- Turkeyville - Imagine surrounding yourself with more than 10,000 cold turkey quitters. Turkeyville is a Facebook support group exclusively for cold turkey quitters.
- Freedom - Freedom was WhyQuit's original 1999 stop smoking support group. No longer accepting members, its 453,000 archived posts continue to share recovery insights.