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What Happens When You Quit An Addiction

This week, I decided that the best way to combat my addictions was to quit smoking. A number of years ago I experimented with nicotine patches. However, these patches felt like a temporary fix and eventually left my body. So in the last few years, I have tried and mostly failed with a multitude of nicotine replacement therapies. These range from the extremely dangerous but addictive, to the incredibly painful products. But, with all of the failures, along the way I have come to realize that one of the most effective treatments for the problem of addiction is to quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit.

Many of us struggle with cravings that lead us toward indulging our addictions. When we feel a need to feel better, we seek out a nicotine or alcohol craving and take one action: take a hit or two. But, for many of us, taking this addictive product does not seem to be a temporary fix. While we can control our addiction in the short-term, we cannot control it in the long-term. There is a greater long-term impact of our addiction than we may be aware. This week, I am going to share with you my story and how I came to quit.

After a particularly difficult family tragedy during graduate school, my life took a turn. I was struggling to make ends meet as I was finishing my undergraduate education. After struggling for a couple of years and with a lot of financial hardship resulting from a bad economy, I started using cocaine while at the University of Pittsburgh. I used it for several years and then took methadone to help me get off of it. That was pretty much the last time I ever took any illicit drugs. I then moved to New York and got a job as an administrative assistant for a large company. I was struggling to pay the bills, keep a roof over my head, and help my family. During this time, I had a number of “cravings” to smoke. It didn’t take long for these cravings to come along with nicotine because it was easier for me to obtain.

After about 18 months of this, I tried quitting with a nicotine patch. The first night I used it I fell asleep. I woke up the next day with my heart pounding, sweating bullets, my veins throbbing, and my hands sweaty. It worked for the first night. However, the next night I woke up with my eyes rolling back in my head, my body shaking, and the urge to smoke immediately upon awakening. I have been taking this nicotine patch for six months now and I am still having to fight these cravings.

I started looking into my alternatives. I used to smoke and drink on occasion, but I had done it many times that year. I had quit doing some things which I loved, but I was still in a slump. I started going to therapy for the first time since high school. I came across a book by Dr. Richard Alpert, that explained the relationship between cravings and addiction. I read about how Dr. Alpert was not opposed to the idea that nicotine addiction was a disease, but that nicotine addiction did not belong in the classification of ‘addiction.’

One of the biggest problems with smoking is that many people don’t understand the damage it causes to the body. It can be as destructive as methamphetamine or heroin. While they may suffer from these ailments temporarily, the damage will ultimately become too much and the individual will have to give up a drug that may be a temporary fix. In that way, nicotine is the same. While you can treat this addiction temporarily, eventually you will have to give up.

In the book The Alcoholic’s Anatomy , there is a chapter about alcohol dependency which discusses what happens when an individual quits smoking. In this case, once the body has adjusted back to a normal level of metabolism, there is no need for alcohol to be taken to get your drink on.

A few weeks ago I went into a tobacco retail store and purchased two packs of cigarettes. For those of you that are new to smoking but have started in the past, I recommend that you try to only have two or three cigarettes a day. After only one month of this, I went to sleep one night craving a cigarette. I awoke the next morning with my eyes rolling back in my head, my body shaking, and the urge to smoke immediately upon awakening.