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Why Obama and smokers fear quitting

New study shows that life after quitting smoking is better not worse.

July 6, 2009   John R. Polito

Cigarette smoking is so tied to Krystle's life that she's totally convinced she cannot quit smoking Most who smoke or chew nicotine have deep fears that quitting will suck the joy from life. New research demolishes this "unhappiness" fiction. A May study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that successful quitters were 21 times more likely to report feeling happier after quitting smoking (69.3%) than feeling less happy (3.3%).

President Obama is far from alone in harboring unrealistic beliefs about decline in the quality of life after ending all nicotine use. But how can false fears about the consequences of successful quitting be greater than fear of smoking yourself to death? What could possibly motivate President Obama to endure two years of media ridicule over his failure to stop both smoking nicotine and chewing it? It's simple. Like 30 million daily U.S. nicotine users, his deep inner mind is convinced that his next nicotine fix is central to his survival.

According to Joel Spitzer, a leading U.S. cessation educator, fear of success is less recognized yet more pronounced among quitters than fear of failure. It's more real, more powerful and probably stops more people from coming to stop smoking clinics than fear of failure, notes Spitzer.

"The thought that they're never going to smoke again for the rest of their lives will scare them," says Spitzer. "I point out that we're not trying to get them off for the rest of their lives. We're just trying to help them off a day at a time, but really a day at a time for just a couple of weeks, the duration of the program. I make it clear to them that at the end of two weeks they will have a choice of whether they go back to smoking or not. And that's all we're trying to do. We're trying to get people to a point where they have a choice."

"If a person decides to go back to smoking on the first or second day of a clinic, the third day of a clinic, they decided nothing. Their addiction called the shots. The addiction was alive and well, these people were in withdrawal, they wanted to stop the withdrawal and they relapsed," says Spitzer.

Many of Joel Spitzer's hundreds of free online articles remind smokers that once free enough so that it's them, not their addiction, making decisions that they need to be honest about that decision. There is no such thing as having just one, that like alcoholism, smoking and relapse is an all or nothing proposition.

So why do users develop profound fear about ending nicotine use? "That fear is based on the fact that they have a whole bunch of false beliefs about cigarettes, that they're doing things for them, that they're making life possible, things that not only are cigarettes not capable of doing but in many cases the cigarettes are making the situation worse than if not smoking at all."

A core user belief is that nicotine relieves stress. It's a false belief that then Senator Obama hinted at last October when asserting that he "fell off the wagon," smoked and relapsed. "But I figure, seeing as I'm running for president, I need to cut myself a little slack," he was quoted as saying (it should be noted that he was referring to the smoke-free wagon, not the nicotine-free wagon, a wagon 28 months of chronic nicotine gum use has kept him from climbing aboard).

"They're afraid they can't deal with stress without cigarettes," says Spitzer. "Stress makes your urine acidic, it makes you lose nicotine, it puts you in drug withdrawal. When you take a cigarette under stress you are not doing it because it's calming down your stress but to stop the drug withdrawal."

The same happens when drinking alcohol explains Spitzer. When smokers drink they smoke more. "If you ask them why they smoke more they think it's a social thing. It's not a social thing. Alcohol does what stress does. It makes them lose nicotine at an accelerated pace and they have to smoke a lot more when drinking."

"They are afraid they can't deal with stress. They are afraid they can't drink anymore. They're afraid they can't talk on the phone anymore without a cigarette. They're afraid they can't get out of bed anymore. This is where fear of quitting comes in because they have smoking so tied into everything they do, that when they first think about quitting they're not thinking about just giving up cigarettes. They think they're giving up everything they do with cigarettes. Now life becomes scary."

For years smokers lived trapped between urge and crave anxiety beatings after failing to resupply sagging nicotine reserves soon enough, and dopamine "aaah" reward sensations surrounding replenishment. The thick bars on their neuro-chemical prison are nicotine use conditioning that has left them totally convinced that nicotine use defines who they are, gives them their edge, helps them cope and that life without it is unthinkable. It's a cell from which half won't escape before false fears associated with quitting cost them their life.

"Oh sure, smoking may kill them five years down the road, ten years, maybe twenty years down the road," says Spitzer. "But my gosh, the day they quit smoking, well, their life is over. That is the fear they're walking around with."

"It's based on a false premise," notes Spitzer. "Their life isn't over the day they quit smoking. They may have to live with withdrawal but that's going to be a short term process. Get through three days, it'll ease up, that physical aspect, and then it's a matter of teaching themselves how to do everything they ever did with a cigarette, without taking a cigarette. Quitting smoking is a learning experience."

According to the new study's authors, which suggests 2,100% odds of feeling happier, "Ex-smokers overwhelmingly reported being happier now than when they were smoking." "It provides at least partial reassurance to would-be quitters that quality of life is likely to improve if they succeed."

Cheryl, a 55 year-old 40-year smoker is a recent example. "I was really nervous about quitting but I did that one week ago. And do you know what? I've been calmer, happier and slept better than I have in years! After reading here about how quitting affects blood sugar I made it a point to make sure I always had juice handy. And it worked!"

Cathy stopped smoking a bit earlier, on April 10, 2009. "Earlier today I happened to be thinking my husband and I seem to be on a happier plane the last few weeks and I wondered if it is coincidental with my not smoking or if my not smoking has had a positive effect on my marriage? Hey this is pretty cool, I'm not smoking and I think I got it this time."

A flood of recent studies teach that nicotine addiction is about living a lie. It's about an external chemical taking the minds priorities teacher hostage. It's about the brain's "pay attention" pathways compelling us to believe that that next nicotine fix is as important as eating when hungry or drinking fluids when thirsty. We all know what food cravings feel like. We also know the dopamine "aaah" sensation that arrives following obedience to them. Imagine your brain being fooled into seeing nicotine as food: food cravings, nicotine cravings - food dopamine "aaah" sensations, nicotine "aaahs."

So how did 40 million U.S. ex-smokers succeed? They harnessed their fears for the three days needed to achieve peak withdrawal, and then stayed brave long enough to begin noticing that every activity they did while using nicotine could now be done as well or better without it. They awoke to realize that nicotine addiction is about living a lie.

Treating nicotine dependency as a true chemical addiction makes recovery's rules simple. In fact there's only one rule. Just one taste of nicotine and relapse occurs. Oh, you may think you've gotten away with it. But just one puff and up to 50% of the brain's a4b2-type acetylcholine receptors become occupied by nicotine, creating a dopamine explosion that soon has the brain begging for more. There was always only one rule ... no nicotine today, never take another puff, dip or chew!

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Written 07/06/09.
Reformatted 08/16/2018 by John R. Polito