I am big tobacco's worst enemy. Why? Because I am an ex-nicotine user and I can show you how to quit. I wasn't just a casual smoker or someone who tried a chew of tobacco. I was a hard-core 3-pack-a-day chain-smoker for a decade and then a 2-can-a-day snuff-dipper for another decade. I know as well as anyone else what it means to be addicted to tobacco. More importantly, I quit nicotine forever, and I am willing to share with you, no strings attached, everything you need to quit too.
You're a smart person. Most tobacco users are quite intelligent. You're so intelligent in fact, that what I'm about to say may insult you because it's something that's obvious and you already know this.. If you regularly smoke cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe, or use smokeless tobacco products, you are an addict. You are a user. You are a nicotine junkie.
You know you're addicted because you've tried to quit at some point and you always end back where you started using tobacco again. However, you don't understand why you are an addict. Sometimes you fool yourself into thinking you like what you've become. But there is a small voice inside your head that isn't so happy that you're an addict. You've never stopped to consider why you can't control your own mind and body. But you are not in control and it's quite obvious to you and those around you.
You know that your health is being adversely affected, but you are powerless to do anything about it. Quite the opposite; you are gladly destroying your own body in exchange for the fleeting effects of nicotine on your mind. But how can this be? You are, after all, a very intelligent person!
Have you wondered why it is that you can't control yourself? Why you literally just lose control of your own mind when you're craving nicotine? Have you ever wondered how addiction works? What's going on inside your brain, the complicated organ that does the thinking and controls your body? What is your brain doing when you're craving nicotine? What is happening when you get it? Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you weren't addicted? How would your brain and decision-making processed work without the burden of constantly keeping the nicotine levels up?
An interesting fact is that you weren't always an addict. You remember that first drag, puff, chew, or dip? Well just before that coughing, choking, gagging, dizzying first experience with tobacco and nicotine, you weren't addicted. You were not an addict. You were a normal, healthy, human being who was in control of his or her body and mind.
But somehow you surrendered. You surrendered to something like peer pressure or social expectations or family tradition or maybe just curiosity. But you did surrender. You gave up your control and your freedom and you stepped into the mind and body trap that is nicotine addiction. You didn't realize you were stepping into this trap because you'd never been addicted to anything before, so you literally had no clue. But now, after living in the trap for so long, you understand what addiction is. You are the very definition of addict.
What's sad about this trap is that you don't even know who YOU are any more. What I mean is, the only “you” that you now know is the smoker-you, or dipper-you: the user-you. This version of your personality, the one that rationalizes the use of tobacco to itself and who is self-destructive, isn't who you were before you fell into the trap. And, more importantly, it really isn't who you want to be. There is a small voice of your former self who is standing on the sidelines of your mind either whispering or screaming for you to snap out of this chemically-driven mind-trap you've gotten yourself into. This small voice in your head wants you to stop being an addict, forever.
What you need to realize is that you don't have to be an addict. You don't have to be trapped. You don't have to continue damaging your body in order to put a chemical in your brain that makes you feel “normal”. Actually you don't even remember what normal is anymore. Your day consists of peaks and valleys of emotional ups and downs tied directly to the level of nicotine in your blood. That's not normal, that's a drug-addict.
So now you have a choice to make:
I'll assume you really want Option 1. You want to be free of nicotine. That's all you need to get started: a desire to be free. Let's get started!
To free yourself of nicotine the most important thing you can do is fully understand the relationship between your brain and nicotine. Nicotine throws a nasty wrench into the machinery of your mind. But your mind is now altered in such a way that it can't figure out what's going on. It is now impossible for you figure this out on your own. Let me explain it to you.
Your brain is composed of billions of cells called neurons. These special cells gather and transmit electrochemical signals (similar to transistors in a computer). In layman's terms, neurons “fire”, like a spark plug in a motor, and transmit signals to other neurons. This firing of neurons happens all the time and it happens a lot: if the average human brain were executing instructions like a computer, it would perform more than 20 quadrillion operations in one second. The firing “patterns” and connections between neurons in your brain are what define everything about your state of mind: your emotions, your personality, your intellect, and your decision-making processes.
The key thing to note about neuron signals is that they are electrochemical. This means they are based on electricity and chemicals, sort of like a battery. There is only one kind of electricity, but there are many kinds of chemicals. The chemicals involved in neuron signal transmission are called neurotransmitters. Chemicals like acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters. The amounts of these neurotransmitters in your brain at any given time determine how your neurons fire.
In much the same way your car needs certain amounts of oil, coolant, and brake fluid for normal operation, your brain needs the proper amounts of each neurotransmitter. To achieve the proper function, the brain actively regulates neurotransmitter levels for optimal neuron operation. For example, if serotonin levels are too high for too long, which would result in someone being overly happy or hyper, the brain reduces production of serotonin. If serotonin levels are too low, which would result in someone being overly sad or depressed, the brain increases serotonin production. Normal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain result in someone being 'normal'. Abnormal levels of neurotransmitters cause all sorts of mental illness.
This is extremely important: the brain's natural adjustment of neurotransmitter base levels happens very slowly, usually over a period of weeks. There is no “dip-stick” in your brain. Your brain senses neurotransmitter levels by complex chemical reactions that are not instantaneous. It simply takes a few weeks for these base levels to be adjusted. You might think of the brain as mainly managing the 'trend' of the levels, not micro-managing each fluctuation.
When you put nicotine into your body several things happen:
So what does having too much norepinephrine in your brain do? Well, it's basically an anti-depressant because it causes an increase of another neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the prefrontal cortex. In essence, it makes you feel “good”. This is why when you smoked your first cigarette or had your first chew of tobacco, you may have gotten a “buzz”. But now that you're an addict, you never experience the buzz any more. The buzz is now gone, and you may not even remember it. So why can't you feel the buzz? Here's why: if you continue to artificially stimulate norepinephrine levels by ingesting nicotine, your brain starts to think there is a problem. It's like your brain says “Hmmm, the levels of dopamine and serotonin seem to be too high. I will slightly decrease production of the these neurotransmitters to see if that fixes the problem.” This happens slowly, over a period of weeks. You won't even notice. It is during this time, that you, without even realizing it, are becoming an addict and the buzz is being diminished.
After a while, if you've been regularly using nicotine, your brain has now lowered normal production of several neurotransmitters to counteract the artificial stimulation you're creating. This is the point at which you don't “feel normal” unless you're taking nicotine. In addition, you no longer get a buzz. And this is the point at which you start becoming an addict. Because if you don't take nicotine, you feel like crap and start to experience withdrawal, both physical and mental, and you develop a craving for nicotine that takes control of your mind.
Why do you start to feel bad? If you don't get nicotine at regular intervals you feel like crap because your dopamine and serotonin levels are down. These are very important neurotransmitters that greatly affect your overall mood. When they're levels are down, you're irritable, grumpy, grouchy, maybe even irrational and depressed. You may even experience “nicotine fits” where you find you'll do almost anything to get some nicotine into your body. Because when you finally do smoke another cigarette or dip some tobacco, all of a sudden your dopamine and serotonin levels come back up and you start to feel better. Not normal, just better than you did.
Congratulations, you are now hooked on nicotine! You're trapped in a neverending usage cycle trying to feel normal again but only feeling marginally better than you feel while craving nicotine.
Keep in mind, this process isn't something that happens overnight. Depending on your body and brain chemistry it takes anywhere from two to six weeks to get solidly hooked on nicotine. But after you're hooked, it's very difficult to stop. Very difficult indeed. It's why you haven't been able to stop despite having tried a few times.
Why is it so difficult to stop nicotine? That's a good question, and the answer is as simple as it is obvious. The reason it is so difficult to stop nicotine is because the very thing that you make decisions with, your brain, is now crippled by your mucking around with it's chemistry. Your thoughts, emotions, personality, and decision-making processes all “run” in your brain. Now you have tossed a giant wrench into this machine. Do you really expect it work properly? Do you really expect that you can control your own mind now? In order for you to approach feeling normal, you have to take nicotine. Without it, you become irate, mentally handicapped, and depressed. You don't feel good, and your decision-making machine, your brain, is all out of whack.
The most important thing you can do right now is just stop and ponder what you have learned. This is how your addiction works: Using nicotine, you've fooled your brain into under-producing a vital set of neurotransmitters that it needs to operate normally. Now when you take away the stimulation of nicotine, your brain doesn't have the neurotransmitters it needs to function properly and you feel like crap. To escape feeling like crap, you take more nicotine.
This is your never-ending mind-trap. This is why continue stimulation with nicotine. This is why when you first wake up in the morning you need nicotine. This is why, repeatedly, throughout your day, you have to take breaks to ingest nicotine. This is why when you walk into a convenience store, you have to buy nicotine. This is why before you go to bed at night, you take nicotine. You must constantly resupply your level of nicotine to stimulate your body to 'be normal'.
The negative health consequences of the nicotine delivery, whether it be a cigarette, a pipe, a cigar, or a big wad of tobacco in your now-stretched cheek don't matter to you any more. They are easily rationalized and overlooked by the very machine, your brain, which is now in desperate need of dopamine and serotonin. This affects you in many ways, none of them good.
You will now willingly accept your heightened risk of cancers, heart disease, lung disease, stinking breath, and social disgrace in exchange for getting your “fix”. You will lobby for the right to continue to fuel your addiction in public places, in front of children, and to poison the air of the “fools” around you who just “don't get it.”. You will likely die of a tobacco related illness, and you're proud of it. Simply because your brain is craving to be normal. But it doesn't have to be this way, and you know it.
When you're ready to commit to quit, you have to decide which path to take to becoming nicotine free:
If you choose Path 1, you're going to have to face a very difficult challenge. It will be the most difficult challenge you have ever faced in your entire life. Most who try quitting cold turkey do not succeed on the first attempt because they are unable to get past the point in time at which their brain begins its natural re-balancing of neurotransmitters. But the good news is, if you do ultimately succeed, you are much less likely to relapse because the sheer torture you've endured while quitting earns you a certain self-respect you won't easily throw away.
If you choose Path 2 it's going to be a little easier, at least physically, but there are still challenges to overcome. There are many products on the market to help ease withdrawal symptoms and/or to provide nicotine during your transition. It might be best to consult with your doctor to determine a plan for you. I won't cover this path here, mostly because I never tried it for 2 reasons:
But I will talk about how I finally did quit nicotine forever: cold-turkey. Quitting cold-turkey is difficult for 2 major reasons involving timing. The first has to do with nicotine's short half-life and second has do with with the brains relatively long neurotransmitter adjustment cycle.
Nicotine has a short half-life in the body, about 60 minutes. That means one hour after a cigarette, half the nicotine you got from it has been broken down by your liver or filtered by your kidneys. In another hour only half of that half remains, and so on. In as little as two hours you will start to feel the effects of not having enough nicotine.
Contrast nicotine's short half-life with how slow your brain responds to changes and you begin to see the dilemma you're facing. The brain's mechanism of regulating neurotransmitters takes a long time to effect change, several weeks at least. This has to do with a lot of complex chemistry, but is easily seen clinically with anti-depressants which require several weeks of administration before they produce a therapeutic effect. It is believed that it is not the immediate effects on neurotransmitters that is producing the anti-depressive effect, but the long-term effects on modification of neurotransmitter receptors.
What is important to understand is you have to get through several weeks of nicotine withdrawal before your brain starts normalizing. During this time, you will be essentially mentally impaired. Quite literally, you're brain is not going to be firing on all cylinders (neurons). So what you have to do is develop a strategy that works for you during this time of mental impairment to keep you off nicotine.
Keep in mind that during the first week you'll be much more mentally impaired than the sixth week. This is why the cold-turkey approach often fails the first time you try, because you simply don't realize just how mentally impaired you're going to be. It's challenging, but no impossible.
You're also going to have physical symptoms. All this time you've been dumping fight-or-flight hormones into your body, constricting your blood vessels, making your heart race and your kidneys work overtime. You're going to feel sort of 'weird' without all this over-clocking. You may have headaches, nausea, and insomnia while those systems re-balance and return to normal operation. Add this to the emotional anguish you're going to face and you start to see why cold-turkey is difficult. But, remember, it's not impossible.
But aren't curious who you really are? The person you used to be before you became addicted to this simple chemical? Aren't you curious how your life will change in ways that you can't even comprehend now as an addict? Aren't you ready to stop rationalizing your addiction and quit kidding yourself about what's going on with your mind and your body? You know, that the answer to all of these questions is yes. You know it through and through. And yet nicotine's influence, at this very moment, is working against you, starting some bizarre rationalization process in your mind.
You have to realize that stopping the addiction is like a giant mind-game you're going to play against yourself. You have to carve out a compartment of rationalization in your mind that can't be overcome by the trauma of withdrawal. You essentially have to outsmart yourself. You have to develop a strategy and execute on it just as if you're playing a sophisticated game of chess. Only this time, what's at stake is the control of your mind, your body, you health and your future.
Here are the 5 major pieces of the strategy that ultimately worked for me:
The second most important part of my personal strategy was planning to be practically incapacitated for those first 2 weeks and to remove myself from my normal environment. Normal day-to-day stresses are amplified a thousand-fold by someone in nicotine withdrawal and they become triggers for relapse. So you have to remove yourself from the stress equation altogether. Isn't the rest of your life worth dedicating 2 weeks of vacation to? Your friends and family will understand and support you.
The Ibuprofen was just to numb any physical discomfort. I'd had massive headaches on earlier cessation attempts. And of course, I knew how irritable I would be from those attempts as well, hence the warning to friends and family.
Disassociating myself from nicotine using friends was perhaps the hardest, but turned out to be a smart decision for me. Too many times in the past when I had tried to quit, I'd be in the middle of a craving and see a friend light up and the temptation overtook me. The thing about nicotine users is that they don't like to do it alone. It makes them feel more normal to be using with friends and others. Just visit a smoking area outside any public building that prohibits smoking or go to a bar. You can literally watch the chain reaction: one smoker pulls out a cigarette and it triggers several others to do the same. They don't even realize what they're doing. I had to completely avoid these situations.
You should come up with a strategy that works for you. And if you fail, adjust your strategy and try again. It's not easy. But you can do it and you have to stop making excuses. You have to stop rationalizing your addiction.
So what can you expect when you quit cold-turkey? When I quit, the first three days were utter hell for me. I locked myself in a room and forced myself to stay. And there in that room, I personally explored the edge of personal psychosis. I felt like Jack Nicholson from “The Shining”. My emotions just went awry: I was angry one moment, sad the next. I cried and talked to myself. I kept rationalizing nicotine use, telling myself this wasn't going to work and I was stupid for trying and that dying from cancer wouldn't be as bad as this. It was insane!
Then I would try to sleep. While sleeping I would have nightmares and awake sweating and feeling nauseous. My head was pounding and I felt like crap. My joints ached, my jaw felt tight, and I was afraid to leave the room. I didn't eat much and when I did eat I felt sick. And the whole time I was thinking about tobacco. It was the most difficult and bizarre three days I have ever experienced.
I was also very mean to people. I remember having to drive somewhere to run an errand. I was in light traffic for about 10 minutes. I had zero patience for other drivers, I was irate. I almost ran another car off the road. Looking back, I realize now that I should not have driven. My mind was that incapacitated.
When you're in this part of withdrawal, this is when you start to realize just how powerful the addiction is. When your using regularly, you don't experience this. It's quite eye-opening and terrifying to realize just how screwed up your entire mind is and how much control you have lost when the nicotine is gone.
This is a key point: the only reason I got through day 2 was because I felt the physical and emotional investment from day 1 had been so great. You have to keep reminding yourself just how much hell you've been through with each day that ticks by. This is very important because a year from now when you're no longer physically addicted to nicotine, someone is going to offer you a cigarette. You're going to need massive internal emotional ammunition to turn it down. When someone offers you tobacco you have to be able to say in your mind, “Are you f***ing crazy?!? I spent the most miserable weeks of entire life, went to the depths of hell and crossed the borders of insanity AND came back to get nicotine out of my life! What kind of sick, pathetic, piece of worm-ridden filth are you to think I would ever venture back into that traumatic territory again?!?”. Then say with your mouth and a smile, “No thanks. I kicked it years ago, don't want it, don't need it.”
After week 1, which was the hardest I found myself in week 2. Week 2 has it's own set of problems. It is dangerous because of the nicotine demons. You might leave the room, or call someone, or do something you used to do, like maybe, watch a movie. That's when the nicotine demons come out and sit on your shoulder and talk to you.
For example, you go out and smell cigarette smoke coming from somewhere and the demon says “Wow! That sure smells good doesn't it?” Or friend calls and says, “We're having a get-together at a John's house tonight, wanna join us?”, then the demon says “Yeah, go dude, you know John will be there on outside smoking, you can just talk to him, you don't have to smoke, you kicked it last week dude, come on, let's go” Or you go see a movie like “Die Hard” and the main character, trying to be all Hollywood-macho lights up while gunning down some guy with a fake Russian accent. Then the demon says “See, Bruce Willis smokes and he's rich and cool and on the big screen...must not be that bad.”
The key point here is: week 2 feels easier, but your mind will start playing little tricks on you. You'll be surprised just how convincing your little demons can be.
This trend continues for several weeks: the physical discomfort begins to wane but the mental “demons” continue: the emotional self-talk, the temptation, the rationalization, the memories, the association of environment and nicotine. These all go through your mind, usually at random. Any one them can serve as a trigger for a relapse. So you have to be prepared to cope with this. You cut through it. You succeed. You start to be surprised at your ability to cope and you start finding it gets easier.
The difficulty in avoiding nicotine is inversely proportional to the how long it's been since you've had any. The longer you go, the easier it gets. Before you know it, six weeks will have passed. You've probably gained some weight because you weren't as hungry when you were in constant fight-or-flight mode. But you'll soon start exercising and eating right. Just give yourself body the time it needs to heal from all the carcinogens you've been dumping into it all these years.
If you can make it to the 6 week mark, you owe yourself a pat on the back. You've done something most would find impossible. You're not physically addicted to nicotine. You still have all the nicotine memories, the occasional temptation, and the demon here or there. But you've been through so much hell that you dare not fall back into the pit. After this mark is when you can begin to take a step back and look at what's going on in your brain: You are starting to become normal again. Your brain is beginning to re-balance its neurotransmitter levels. You're not out of the woods yet, but you're at a place to contemplate some things:
So, what do you think of the real you? The YOU you used to be before you became an addict? Because this is who YOU are now! Welcome back!
Tobacco companies know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, how addictive nicotine is to humans. Nicotine is as addictive (if not more so) than drugs like heroine and cocaine. They know very well the process of chemical addiction, they have known for years, and they take advantage of that process to put money in their pockets at the expense of unsuspecting people all over the world who are gladly killing themselves. Why aren't we mad about this? Why do we grow tobacco? Why does our government subsidize tobacco growers? It's insanity!
Why on earth do we allow smoking restaurants and other public places, especially the southern United States. Our laws make it is perfectly legal to light up a cigarette in many public places (a restaurant, a pub, a bowling alley, a school), in front of minor children, and smoke up the air that others in that place have to breathe. Why do we tolerate this? Why do we ignore the health consequences of second-hand smoke? It's insanity!
It's hard to imagine while your addicted, but when you are not a smoker, your sense of smell returns and you really begin to realize just how bad it smells in a smoker's car, a smoker's house, or even just being 'near' a smoker. It's hideous and they don't realize it. Furthermore, an ex-smoker, someone who's fought through the addiction, sees people who smoke as unattractive and sometimes just plain weak-minded.
People who have kicked the addiction will often feel sorry for addicts, often trying to help (in vain usually) the addict let go of nicotine.
People who have kicked the addiction begin to notice just how 'available' nicotine is in our society. It's everywhere: grocery stores, vending machines in restaurants and hotels, wholesale warehouses, gas-stations, and specialty stores. Our world is full of tobacco. After you kick the addiction, you'll see just how bizarre this is. Why do we have a highly addictive substance so readily accessible from anywhere in our society? Do you think it's really about freedom? If so, then why aren't we free to have heroine, cocaine, and marijuana? It makes no sense. It's insane.
If you're addicted you probably think everything I've said up until this point is ludicrous or impossible. That's the addiction talking. It's not impossible because I've done it. You can too. It's not magic. It's just you deciding to take control of your own mind and body. So when you reach this six-week point I'd like for you to return and re-read all of this. Once you've reached a year or more without nicotine in your life come back and read this again. Once you've reached 3 years read it one more time. Once you've reached 10 years read it one more time. Note how your feelings on the subject change over time.
It's really all about understanding how your brain is working, how you got yourself into this hole in the first place, and how that you can indeed get out of this hole. And once you're out, you'll wonder why you were a slave so long.
If you slip and fall back into the hole don't make excuses and rationalize away what's going on. Analyze it, think about it. Figure why your strategy didn't work and pick yourself up by your bootstraps and try again.
It's not easy. Even years after you've quit, the little demons may visit you occasionally. But you will learn to recognize the thoughts and eliminate them with logic. You will be in control. You will succeed.
The sense of freedom you will feel, the better health you will enjoy, the knowledge that you can and do own your mind and your body and you do indeed control them, are all worth fighting for. Wrest control of your life back away from this simple drug which consumes so much of your time, your energy, your health, your life.
When you succeed, you will share you story, you will tell a friend, you will spread the word. Because you're an intelligent, rational, human being, and you know you never needed to be an addict. You know it in your mind, you know it in your heart: you know you're not an addict. You will want to help others out of the trap that you got out of years ago.
The Teenager's Guide
The Teenager's Guide
© Copyright 2005 by Marshall Brain. All rights reserved.