“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
– Viktor E. Frankl
That article closed with:
Nicotine is usually out of your body within 72 hours after you quit smoking. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms usually reach their peak 2 to 3 days after you quit, and are typically gone within a few weeks.
This leads us to the what is the trickier part of the quitting equation for many: psychological addiction.
Indeed, the psychological side of a smoking habit often lingers long after the physical symptoms disappear.
In fact, many studies suggest that smokers may be more addicted to the act of smoking than the nicotine.
Beliefs about nicotine, addiction, and smoking can also interfere with your attempts to become a non-smoker.
A 2011 analysis of studies revealed the following:
- Smokers’ responses to nicotine are largely determined by their beliefs and expectations regarding nicotine.
- The success of treatment was associated more with smokers’ beliefs about whether or not they received nicotine than with whether or not they actually received nicotine.
- People who abstained from smoking during religious holidays reported no craving or withdrawal symptoms on the morning after an overnight abstinence, but high levels of cravings during workdays when they smoked whenever they wanted.
- Non-daily smokers reported much higher craving levels on days that they smoked as compared to days that they did not smoke.
- A study of flight attendants who are banned from smoking during the flight showed that craving was related to the time remaining to the end of the flight more than to the length of abstinence (and presumably of nicotine withdrawal).
- Neural responses to smoking cues in an fMRI study were related to expectancy to smoke more than to abstinence.
The researchers said these findings are inconsistent with the idea that craving and withdrawal symptoms are solely caused by the lack of nicotine.
They concluded their analysis with this:
An addiction model inherently places control and responsibility outside the individual, so it is likely to undermine one’s sense of control and self-efficacy. Indeed, smokers who believe that they are addicted perceive quitting as more difficult and have reduced confidence in their ability to achieve complete cessation. Moreover, these attitudes seem to act as self-fulfilling prophecies, as they are correlated with shorter duration of cessation attempts and higher relapse rates. In our opinion, the Surgeon General’s statement on nicotine addiction is not only misleading, it will actually impede the “assault on the tobacco epidemic” for which this report was to be the weapon.
Dr. Reuven Dar, one of the researchers, believes that people who smoke do so for short-term benefits like oral gratification, sensory pleasure, and social camaraderie.
Psychological Associations: Habits, Rituals, and Routines
To become a non-smoker, you will need to identify the psychological associations you have with smoking.
Viewing smoking as a habit, not an addiction, makes becoming a non-smoker easier.
Once the habit is established, people continue to smoke in response to cues and in situations that become associated with smoking.
Smoking cessation techniques should emphasize the psychological and behavioral aspects of the habit much more than the biological aspects, according to Dr. Dar.
Are you skeptical?
Every move a smoker makes – the lighting of the cigarette, the inhaling, all the feelings and sensations of it – the whole package becomes the habit.
All of the aspects of smoking – carrying the pack, playing with the lighter, pulling the cigarette out of the pack, taking that first draw on the lit cigarette, the hand-to-mouth arm action of smoking…all of this is a ritual.
And that ritual becomes so ingrained into your daily life that it is no longer a conscious choice. It is a routine.
A cigarette goes with other daily activities. You smoke while you are drinking coffee, talking on the phone, taking your dog for a walk, driving to work.
You can become so used to the routine that just the thought of those daily activities triggers the need for a cigarette, just like Pavlov’s dogs learned to drool at the sound of a bell without the food even appearing.
These psychological associations remain when smokers try to quit.
That’s because habits are behaviors we repeat with great frequency and regularity.
They are most often performed with little to no conscious intention.
They are an incredibly powerful and pervasive psychological phenomenon.
Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick, says that the reason cigarette smoking is so addictive is that it combines two cast-iron habits: daily contextual behaviors (like coffee drinking) plus the biological imperative for regular nicotine infusion.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you can use habit pairs to your advantage when you quit smoking (more on that in Part 4 of this series).
Smoking: The Great Deceiver
Many smokers believe that smoking reduces stress, relieves anxiety, and improves concentration.
But are those commonly-held beliefs based in truth?
Smokers use the habit as a way to alleviate negative feelings like stress, nervousness, and anxiety. Using cigarettes as a form of self-medication to overcome these emotions strengthens a smoker’s relationship with tobacco and slowly builds up psychological dependency.
Think about this, though: Isn’t smoking itself causing you stress?
If you are reading this, you probably want to quit smoking. You are at least considering it.
Maybe you are worried about the health risks. Perhaps you are already suffering from smoking-related ailments.
You are intelligent and informed. You know smoking is terrible for you, and keeping up the habit is stressing you out. It is certainly an expensive habit – financially, emotionally, and physically.
Smoking is a REASON for your stress, but it is the thing you think you need to relieve that stress.
How many times have you reached for a cigarette instead of searching for a solution to a problem?
Most smokers believe smoking improves concentration, but this improvement is likely to be due to the relief of withdrawal symptoms that appear between cigarettes. A smoker’s body needs a constant level of nicotine throughout the day. When these levels dip, it experiences withdrawal symptoms. The increased concentration after a cigarette is your body’s way of thanking you for satisfying its addiction. This also means that poor concentration is one of the possible short-term withdrawal symptoms when you stop smoking.
These flawed beliefs teach you to keep on smoking, because if you try to quit you are punished by those withdrawal symptoms – irritability, moodiness, lack of concentration.
Could it be that smoking is really just a short-term pleasure that is causing you long-term suffering?
The reason you began smoking doesn’t really matter. You started, the habit became ingrained, and now – if you want to become a non-smoker – it is time to be honest with yourself.
Do you enjoy smoking?
Or, is smoking simply distracting you from feelings, emotions, and problems you’d rather not face?
It is human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. If you believe that stopping smoking is going to be a painful event, you will avoid it. You’ll make excuses and rationalizations.
You’ll procrastinate. Instead of choosing a quit date and sticking to it, you’ll find reasons to postpone quitting. You are too busy. Too stressed. There’s too much going on in your life right now, and it’s just a bad time to try to give up your cigarettes.
Procrastination is a coping mechanism. When you procrastinate, you are avoiding emotionally unpleasant tasks and replacing them with activities that provide a temporary mood boost. But, the procrastination itself causes anxiety, shame, and guilt, which in turn leads you to procrastinate even further, creating a vicious cycle.
We tend to live in the moment. We don’t always think long term. Short-term gains are more immediate and important.
But at what price?
Mentally Preparing to Become a Non-Smoker
You can make the transition to non-smoker easier by thinking about where, why, and how much you smoke.
A good place to start is to keep a smoking log for a couple of days in which you note the time of each cigarette, where you smoked it, and what your mood was like. It can be as simple as a sheet of paper you keep inside your cigarette pack.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What part does smoking play in your daily life?
- What situations make you want to smoke?
- What activities do you associate with having a cigarette?
- Do particular moods trigger your need to smoke?
- Does smoking fulfill particular psychological or social needs?
- How do you see yourself as a smoker?
Being honest with yourself, understanding your triggers and reasons for smoking, taking personal responsibility, and realizing that the power to stop smoking is YOURS are the keys to becoming a non-smoker.
In the final part of this series (part 4), you’ll learn about which smoking cessation method works best.
It is probably going to surprise – and relieve – you.