Smoking Addiction: Why is it so Hard to Quit?

Smoking Addiction: Why is it so Hard to Quit?


Smoking cigarettes is a pretty big issue among recovering addicts and alcoholics. As a population, those in recovery tend to smoke much more frequently than the general population does. It sort of goes along with the turf.


I myself smoked cigarettes for about the first 5 years of my recovery. I tried many times to quit and failed at it. After trying everything from patches to the E Cigarette, I finally managed to quit.  Here are some things that I learned about why it was so hard to quit:

1. There are benefits to smoking.

After all the anti-smoking messages we hear these days, this of course sounds absolutely crazy. But there are genuine benefits to smoking, and this is a big part of what makes quitting so monstrously difficult.

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One of the biggest benefits to smoking that I miss out on personally is the social aspect of it. Being an ex-smoker, you miss out on some good conversations among people who are huddled outside of buildings. Now I know that people argue that you can be social without smoking, but as someone who used to be out there huddled around a circle of smokers, I know that this is not always the case. Smoking addiction gave an excuse, it was an automatic outlet for this socialization to occur. The ritual of smoking on a regular basis made for more of these “mini-meet ups” among people. Sort of a weak argument, I know. But still it is there….smoking provides an outlet for socializing that in some cases would not otherwise occur.

Impact on quitting: Prepare for this if you are going to be quitting smoking and take action to compensate for it. This might mean going out of your way to talk with different people at work so that you do not feel isolated when you are missing out on smoke breaks. You might also write down a list of the benefits of quitting and keep the list with you. For example, calculate the money saved each year from quitting (over a thousand dollars for most people), as well as the health benefits, and list these things on a sheet of paper that you keep in your pocket. Pull it out and read it when you get the urge to smoke.

2. The ritual of smoking creates an insane level of psychological and emotional withdrawal.

As if the physical withdrawal from nicotine were not bad enough, the real killer in my opinion are these other two elements of withdrawal: both the emotional loss that you feel from giving up your closest “friend,” as well as the insane amount of cravings you will experience as you go about your life during the first few weeks of quitting. It really is ridiculous when you first stop smoking, as it seems like every single second you are craving a cigarette. This is actually not true but you have to use a watch or a clock to prove it to yourself.

If you happen to be going through acute nicotine withdrawal, sit down and look at your watch or a nearby clock on the wall. Note the exact time and notice that you are craving a cigarette (duh). Then just go on about yourself for a moment and the next time you get a powerful craving to smoke, look at the time again. This seems like a silly exercise to do, but if you are actually going through nicotine withdrawal, doing so will amaze you. Time distortion is a very real symptom of nicotine withdrawal and the only way to combat it is to measure time and become aware of when you are not actually having cravings. The person who is in nicotine withdrawal will look back and say that their cravings were continuous, when in actuality they just did not measure the gaps in between the cravings. The inability to measure these gaps in between is a documented symptom of nicotine withdrawal.

Impact on quitting: When we go through our day after quitting smoking, we experience things that use to be triggers for us to smoke. Getting into a car. Finishing a meal. Walking outdoors. The list is endless, and your brain has to make it through each of these triggers a few times before you can do it without having a subconsciously created nicotine craving. That is a really important point so I will go over it again: you have to relearn how to live your life without giving in to these constant triggers that used to be cues to smoke. You will have to practice for a few weeks and make it through, smoke free, before the triggers subside.

3. We use smoking as a coping mechanism. From all indications, it works great….from the smoker’s perspective.

We believe that we smoke in order to relieve stress. We believe that we get relief when we light up.

This is false. You have yourself fooled. In fact, you start feeling withdrawal symptoms after you go about an hour without having a cigarette. This will add a little bit to whatever stress you might have in your life at the time. The only way to get back to normal is to smoke. All you are doing is relieving the tension of withdrawal coming on. Your stress remains after the cigarette is gone, and in fact starts building up again within about a half hour or forty five minutes. It is an insane cycle because the cigarette only seems like it calms us down, when in fact it is just putting out the fires (withdrawal) that it started!

If you quit smoking and make it to, say, the 30 day mark without a relapse, you will be able to see that you actually have less stress in your life now that you have quit smoking. But it is impossible to see that when you are going through the agony of withdrawal.

Impact on quitting: Brace yourself for the insanity. Seriously. Everything in your life will go wrong when you quit smoking. This is inevitable. In fact, I had to try to quit smoking about a dozen times just so I could keep testing this hypothesis and make sure it was for real. As soon as you smoke your last cigarette, things are going to go haywire. It is guaranteed.  It will be like all the smoking ads are just screaming at you.

Now realize this: there is no insanity, there is no chaos that happens only when you quit smoking. There is always a bit of chaos in all of our lives….it just gets amplified when we are in withdrawal. Prepare for this and remind yourself to take everything with a grain of salt. You have to let it slide off you if you are going to stay cool during your first week of quitting.

This information here is just the tip of the iceberg. I actually quit smoking over 3 and half years ago and have saved myself over six thousand dollars by not smoking. Had I continued smoking, the total time it would have taken me to smoke all those cigarettes would have been 4 months worth of continuous smoking.

Folks, that is just plain nuts. These days I run 6 miles every other day.


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