“You smoke because you’re a smoke-a-holic!” —Joel Spitzer


Some smokers say they smoke because they are nervous. Others say they smoke to celebrate. Some think they smoke for energy. Many smoke to look sexy. Yet others smoke to stay awake or to sleep. Some think they smoke to think. One truly unique smoker once told me she smoked to breathe better. Another one said she returned to smoking when experiencing chest pains. She figured the fear of a heart attack is enough to make anyone smoke. None of these reasons satisfactorily explain why people continue smoking. However, the answer is, in fact, quite simple. Smokers smoke cigarettes because they are smokers. More precisely, smokers smoke cigarettes because they are smoke-a-holics.

A smoke-a-holic, like any other drug addict, has become hooked on a chemical substance. In the cigarette smoker’s case, nicotine is the culprit. He is at the point where the failure to maintain a minimum level of nicotine in his blood stream leads to the nicotine abstinence syndrome, otherwise known as drug withdrawal. Anything that makes him lose nicotine makes him smoke.

This concept explains why so many smokers feel they smoke under stress. Stress has a physiological effect on the body which makes the urine acidic. Whenever the urine becomes acidic, the body excretes nicotine at an accelerated rate. Thus, when a smoker encounters a stressful situation he loses nicotine and goes into drug withdrawal. Most smokers feel that when they are nervous or upset cigarettes help calm them down. The calming effect, however, is not relief from the emotional strain of the situation, but actually the effect of replenishing the nicotine supply and ending the withdrawal. It is easy to understand why the smoker without this basic knowledge of stress and its nicotine effect is afraid to give up smoking. He feels that he will be giving up a very effective stress management technique. But once he gives up smoking for a short period of time, he will become calmer, even under stress, than when he was a smoker.

The explanation of how physiological changes in the body make them smoke is difficult for some smokers to believe. But nearly all smokers can easily relate to other situations which also alter the excretion rate of nicotine. Ask a smoker what happens to his smoking consumption after drinking alcohol, and you can be sure he will answer that it goes up. If asked how much his consumption rises, he will normally reply that it doubles or even triples when drinking. He usually is convinced that this happens because everyone around him is smoking. But if he thinks back to a time when he was the only smoker in the room, he will realize that drinking still caused him to smoke more. Alcohol consumption results in the same physiological effect as stress—acidification of the urine. The nicotine level drops dramatically, and the smoker must light one cigarette after another or suffer drug withdrawal.

It is important for the smoker considering quitting to understand these concepts because once he truly understands why he smokes he will be able to more fully appreciate how much more simple his life will become as an ex-smoker.

Once the smoker stops, the nicotine will begin to leave his body, and within two weeks all the nicotine will be gone. Once the nicotine is totally out of the body, all withdrawal will cease. No longer will he experience drug withdrawal states whenever encountering stress, drinking, or just going too long without smoking. In short, he will soon realize that all the benefits he thought he derived from smoking were false effects. He did not need to smoke to deal with stress, or to drink, socialize, or work. Everything he did as a smoker he can do as a non-smoker, and in most cases he will now do these activities more efficiently and feel better during them.

He will become a more independent person. It is a good feeling and a major accomplishment to break free from this addiction. But no matter how long he is off smoking and how confident he feels, the ex-smoker must always remember that he is a smoke-a-holic.

Being a smoke-a-holic means that as long as he doesn’t take a single drag off a cigarette, cigar or pipe, or chew tobacco, or inject it into his bloodstream with a syringe, he will never again become hooked on nicotine. If, on the other hand, he does make the tragic mistake of experimenting with any nicotine product, he will reinforce his addiction. This will result either in returning to his old level of consumption or experiencing a full fledged withdrawal process. Neither situation is fun to go through.

So, once off of smoking, the ex-smoker must always remember just who and what he is—a smoke-a-holic for the rest of his life. Remembering this, he can remain truly independent from nicotine by following one simple practice—Never Take Another Puff!

©1983. by Joel Spitzer

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